In South Africa, the history of furniture design has evolved over the years, with local designers starting to make waves in the industry since the breakdown of apartheid. Influenced by various cultures and traditions, South African furniture design has undergone significant changes, with local craftsmen creating unique pieces that have gained global recognition.
From Dutch and Indonesian influences to British designs and the emergence of modern African styles, South African furniture design showcases a rich history of cultural influences and local craftsmanship.
- South African furniture design has a rich history of cultural influences and local craftsmanship.
- The use of ‘riempies’ in chair design is a unique adaptation in South Africa, providing comfortable and readily available seating.
- Pioneer Furniture emerged in South Africa, with practicality, adaptability, and durability taking precedence over elaborate furnishings.
- British influence in South African design is significant, with renowned architect Sir Herbert Baker and the Morris Chair leaving their mark.
- Talented local designers, such as Thabisa Mjo, Siyanda Mbele, and Mpho Vackier, have made significant contributions to the furniture industry, creating award-winning pieces with unique cultural inspirations.
Dutch and Indonesian Influences in South African Furniture Design
Prior to the development of a unique design history, South African furniture largely relied on styles and techniques from other parts of the world, particularly Dutch and Indonesian influences. The Swellengrebei Cabinet, a notable example of such design, was crafted in the 18th century and is named after the Swellendam and De Beers Passes in the Cape Colony. The cabinet is believed to have been made by a Dutch carpenter who went by the name of Hendrik Jacobsz, who incorporated the Indo-Dutch style into his work.
The Dutch East India Company, also known as the VOC, had a significant presence in the Cape Colony and was responsible for the export of furniture back to the Netherlands. The styles were typically in traditional Dutch taste, but also incorporated influences from Indonesia due to the VOC’s trading activities in the region. The VOC’s influence on South African furniture design is evident in the use of turned legs and feet, as well as carved decoration in furniture pieces.
Local adaptations to chair design also became popular, with the use of ‘riempies’ for seating. Riempies are thin strips of cured leather that are used to weave a seat for a chair or bench frame. This technique became popular due to its practicality and durability, compared to woven reed seating. The ‘riempies’ method can be seen in both Dutch and Indonesian styles of furniture.
|Dutch Influences in South African Furniture Design||Indonesian Influences in South African Furniture Design|
|The use of turned legs and feet||Carving and fretwork decoration|
|Dark wood finishes||Brightly coloured finish or lacquer work|
|Chairs with turned or carved ‘riempies’ seating||‘Riempies’ seating used for chair backs and arms|
British influences also had an impact on South African design, with famous architect Sir Herbert Baker contributing to furniture design. The Morris Chair was a popular British design that influenced South African furniture, as well as the Cape Dutch ‘Jonkmanskas’ or gentleman’s cupboard. These influences, along with the Dutch and Indonesian styles, contributed to the evolution of South African furniture design.
Today, modern South African designers, such as Thabisa Mjo, Siyanda Mbele, and Mpho Vackier, draw inspiration from their cultural heritage to create unique and innovative furniture pieces. African-inspired furniture made from sustainable materials is gaining recognition in contemporary interior design markets globally. African craftsmanship, including wood carving and beading, contributes to the beauty and authenticity of African furniture.
The Remarkable Quality of Dutch-Influenced Furniture in the Cape Colony
The furniture made under the Dutch East India Company’s (VOC) influence in the Cape Colony usually followed traditional Dutch taste, but what makes these items even more remarkable is that the actual workforce consisted of slaves or ex-slaves with no prior background in furniture making. Despite this, the workmanship of these pieces was of impressive quality. The slaves were taught to make furniture by their owners, who were often highly skilled woodworkers themselves. In addition, much of the furniture produced in the Cape Colony during this time was made without nails or screws, relying instead on elaborate joinery to hold the pieces together. This was due to the limited availability of metal fasteners.
One notable adaptation in chair design was the use of “riempies,” or cured leather strips, for seating. This provided durability and comfort and became a signature element of this type of furniture. Other aspects of Dutch furniture design also influenced the furniture made in the Cape, including straight lines, geometric shapes, and carved wooden decorations.
The Adaptation of ‘Riempies’ in South African Chair Design
In terms of chair design, a notable adaptation that became popular in South Africa was the use of ‘riempies’ instead of woven reed seating. This unique adaptation has a rich history and has become a unique and defining feature in local furniture.
The use of ‘riempies’ thin strips of cured leather is not only a practical but also a durable option compared to woven reeds. ‘Riempies’ provide comfortable seating and are also easily obtainable, making them a popular choice in various chair designs such as the ‘Tolletjie’ chair.
The use of ‘riempies’ in chair design reflects the country’s cultural heritage and resourcefulness. This adaptation has been present in South African furniture for a long time, and it is still a prominent feature in modern designs.
South African furniture design has evolved over the years, but the use of ‘riempies’ in chair design remains a constant reminder of the country’s unique blend of cultures and traditions.
Pioneer Furniture and the Dominance of Chairs in South African Design
As settlers moved further north in the Cape Colony, the need for elaborate furniture decreased in favor of practicality, adaptability, and durability, giving rise to what is known as Pioneer Furniture. During this time, chairs dominated over changes to chests and cupboards, with the use of ‘riempies’ in chair design becoming a popular local adaptation.
The Voortrekkers and early settlers favored practical and durable furniture over embellishment, and this style shares similarities with the principles of the Shaker movement in America. Chairs continued to dominate in this harsh setting, with ‘riempies’ being used for comfortable seating.
Notably, the Swellengrebei Cabinet, commissioned by Governor-General Hendrik Swellengrebei in 1740, is a masterpiece of locally made furniture that gained popularity in the 18th century. The use of ‘riempies’ in chair design provided comfortable seating and was easily obtainable, unlike imported woven reed seating.
The British influence on South African design, particularly through renowned architect Sir Herbert Baker, is evident in styles such as the Morris Chair. However, practicality and durability remained a priority in Pioneer Furniture and continue to influence modern African furniture design today.
Unique Uses of ‘Riempies’ in South African Seating
One interesting aspect of South African furniture is the unique use of ‘riempies’ in seating, although there are exceptions in certain types of stools. ‘Riempies’ are thin strips of cured leather that serve as a practical and long-lasting alternative to woven seating materials. This innovative seating option not only provides comfort but also durability and easy availability.
The use of ‘riempies’ in chair design originated as a local adaptation to imported woven materials, which were not readily available or cost-effective for local craftsmen. The practicality and durability of ‘riempies’ made them an ideal solution, and this technique has been utilized in South African furniture ever since.
Although ‘riempies’ are most commonly associated with chair design, they have also been used in other types of seating, such as three-legged low stools and squatting stools. These stools were designed to be lower to the ground and used for activities such as grinding maize and millet. The use of ‘riempies’ in these seats not only provided a comfortable seating alternative but also allowed for greater stability and durability.
British Influence in South African Furniture Design.
British influence also played a significant role in South African design, particularly through the renowned architect Sir Herbert Baker. Although furniture design was not his main passion, his pieces, such as Stinkwood and bone inlaid chairs with Riempie seats, are highly sought after by collectors and museums.
Aside from Baker’s work, British design found popularity in South Africa in the form of the Morris Chair, known for its reclining back set by grooves and pegs. Additionally, the Cape Dutch-inspired Jonkmanskas, a storage staple with drawers atop a cupboard, remains a favorite.
Overall, the British influence on South African furniture design can be seen in the use of classic European styles, as well as the incorporation of local materials and adaptations to suit the African context.
Rise of Talented Local Designers in South Africa
Between 1900 and the gradual end of apartheid in the 70s and 80s, there is little recorded information about South African furniture design; however, since that time, South Africa has witnessed the rise of talented local designers who have made significant contributions to the industry.
Thabisa Mjo, Siyanda Mbele, and Mpho Vackier are among the many designers who have gained recognition for their unique perspectives and award-winning designs. Mjo, known for her storytelling approach in design, has collaborated with other local talents and gained recognition for her work, including the “Meadow” collection inspired by South Africa’s landscapes. Mbele, whose work combines traditional Zulu shapes with contemporary aesthetics, won the coveted award for the Mvelo Desk at the 2018 Indaba exhibition. Vackier, a metallurgical engineer turned interior designer, creates collections that blend ethnic motifs with mid-century and Bauhaus silhouettes, earning recognition in international design shows.
The rise of these talented local designers showcases the evolution and vibrancy of the South African furniture design industry. With their unique cultural backgrounds, perspectives, and approaches to design, they are bringing a fresh perspective to the industry and putting South Africa on the global design map.
Examples of Modern African Furniture Designs
Thabisa Mjo, Siyanda Mbele, and Mpho Vackier are just a few examples of the diverse and evolving landscape of traditional African furniture styles in South Africa. Since the end of apartheid, local designers have created furniture that embraces African heritage while also pushing the boundaries of contemporary design.
Siyanda Mbele gained national attention with his Mvelo Desk, which won the Most Beautiful Object in South Africa award in 2018. The desk features subtle geometric patterns that take inspiration from traditional Zulu shapes. Mbele’s designs often blend traditional motifs with modern materials, such as the use of cork and glass in his Sombra Lamp.
Thabisa Mjo’s approach to furniture design is rooted in storytelling. Her Pooitjie Server combines functionality with a touch of artistic flair. The server’s design was inspired by a traditional South African cast-iron pot and features intricate weaving details on its doors. Mjo’s collaborations with local artisans and furniture brands have won her international recognition.
Mpho Vackier’s background in metallurgical engineering brings a unique perspective to her African-inspired furniture designs. Her African Crowns range features mid-century and Bauhaus influences combined with ethnic motifs. The range’s name is inspired by the Oromo people of Ethiopia, whose crowns Vackier draws inspiration from.
Alongside these contemporary designers, there is also a growing market for traditional African furniture. Phases Africa offers a collection of handcrafted African furniture that blends traditional craftsmanship with modern sophistication. Their collection includes sustainably sourced tree root dining tables and wooden benches with “riempies” seats, highlighting the beauty and diversity of African design.
African furniture’s emphasis on sustainable materials and unique design elements has resulted in an increasing demand for African-inspired home decor accessories. Beaded armchairs and cowhide chairs have gained popularity for their cultural authenticity and vibrant colors.
Modern African furniture designs are a tribute to Africa’s rich cultural heritage and artistic craftsmanship. From classic pieces with a contemporary twist to innovative creations by local designers, these furniture designs showcase the beauty and diversity of African design while adding a touch of African aesthetic to any interior.
In conclusion, the furniture industry in South Africa has a rich and diverse history, from its Dutch and Indonesian influences to the rise of talented local designers in recent years, showcasing the unique cultural heritage and artistic craftsmanship of the country.
Modern African furniture designs are gaining global recognition, with their unique inspirations and use of sustainable materials. The furniture is functional and pleasing to the eye, combining cultural authenticity with contemporary design.
Famous British designers, such as Sir Herbert Baker, have also had a significant impact on South African furniture design, contributing to the popularity of British-inspired pieces, such as the Morris Chair and the Jonkmanskas.
Custom designs and unique pieces highlight the creativity and artistry of African furniture makers. Hand-carved animal keychains and African-inspired coffee tables are just a few examples of the diverse range of items available.
Overall, African furniture is a perfect blend of tradition and modernity, offering something for everyone when it comes to interior design. As the furniture industry in South Africa continues to grow, it is exciting to see what new innovations and designs will emerge in the years to come.
Q: What is the history of furniture design in South Africa?
A: The history of furniture design in South Africa has evolved over the years. Prior to the breakdown of apartheid, South African furniture was mainly based on styles and techniques from other parts of the world. However, since then, local designers have started making waves in the industry, bringing a unique design history to the country.
Q: What are some notable examples of South African furniture design?
A: One notable example is the Swellengrebei Cabinet, commissioned around 1740 by Governor-General Hendrik Swellengrebei. Another example is the Jonkmanskas, a storage staple with two drawers on top of a cupboard. These are just a few examples of the diverse and evolving landscape of traditional African furniture styles in South Africa.
Q: What is the significance of ‘riempies’ in South African chair design?
A: ‘Riempies’ are thin strips of cured leather used in South African chair design. They provide comfortable seating and last longer than woven reed seating. The use of ‘riempies’ is particularly prominent in chair design, although exceptions can be found in certain types of stools.
Q: What is the influence of British design in South African furniture?
A: British influence has played a significant role in South African furniture design. Renowned architect Sir Herbert Baker had a strong influence, both in architecture and furniture design. The Morris Chair, known for its reclining back set by grooves and pegs, is one example of a British design that found popularity in South Africa.
Q: Who are some talented local designers in South Africa?
A: Thabisa Mjo, Siyanda Mbele, and Mpho Vackier are talented local designers making significant contributions to the furniture industry. Thabisa Mjo draws inspiration from childhood memories and incorporates storytelling into her designs. Siyanda Mbele’s Mvelo Desk features geometric patterns inspired by traditional Zulu shapes. Mpho Vackier combines ethnic motifs with mid-century and Bauhaus silhouettes, drawing inspiration from various African countries.
Q: What are some examples of modern African furniture designs?
A: Thabisa Mjo, Siyanda Mbele, and Mpho Vackier have created modern African furniture designs that showcase their unique cultural inspirations. Thabisa Mjo’s collaborations with local artisans and furniture brands have garnered international recognition. Siyanda Mbele’s Mvelo Desk won the “Most Beautiful Object in South Africa” award in 2018. Mpho Vackier’s Ndebele-inspired furniture range combines ethnic motifs with mid-century and Bauhaus silhouettes.