Wood is making its way back into our homes. I’m not referring to granny’s heirloom armoire though, nor the cheap-as-chips mass produced variety we see in malls. In a field all of its own, somewhere between age-old practcse, industrial manipulation and modern aesthetic, a new identity is born. We take a look at three different designers, all of them elevating the innate qualities of timber, who are forging a simpler, more honest aesthetic with the material.
Recently launched NM Design is the brainchild of Paarl based interior and product designer Nelia Naude. As a young girl, Naude spent her days running around her grandfather’s antique shop, which, together with the influence of her architect father, evidently left its mark on this self-confessed lover of wood.
Naude’s work is a classic mash up of old meets new, with benches, chairs, cupboards and tables strongly influenced by historical architecture, which are then given a cleaner more honest aesthetic. Her affinity for tradition is evident in the nostalgic names given to pieces like Neem U Sitplek, Skraal Kas and the Van Dienste Tafel. Of particular interest to Naude is the array of possibilities available through classic joinery, something which she claims gives simple beauty to every piece.
When asked what she is bringing to contemporary furniture design, she explains that it comes down to the detail: A brass fingertip handle, the natural finish she uses and the simplicity of form present in her pieces. “They all have timeless beauty,” she says. “The way that a dowel joint is visible structurally, it creates the most beautiful feature. Details like that are created using a single natural material – wood,” she says.
Favourite wood to work with: Oak and yellowwood.
Designs by Nelia Naude:
By bringing simple geometry to the pieces he designs, this celebrated Southern Guild represented designer channels innately African artefacts, shaping them using modern industrial processes. A self-taught wood worker, his love of the medium lies in that it “requires precision, but, unlike steel and other more industrial materials present in my current work, wood is organic and the form emerges in the process.” It’s that contrast, he says, that appeals to the more nostalgic, patient part of his design interests.
His Assegai chair, for example, was cued by the characteristic shape of the historic spear used in Zulu battle, and furthermore by the form of typically low traditional African stools. Using swarthout, Kriel opted for a reduced, purely geometric aesthetic to give the seat a more contemporary appeal.
Favourite wood to work with: Oak
Designs by Xandre Kriel:
Best known for his unique work with cork, this award winning furniture designer takes his direction from the material qualities of whichever medium he works with. When working with timber, he aims to retain its natural appeal and incorporate other materials (steel or cork) to complement it. “Timber lends itself to the special characteristics I look for in a material: It’s hardwearing, timeless, natural, beautiful and yet sustainable if sourced from the correct suppliers,” he explains.
His latest project, to be launched at 100% Design South Africa in August, has been an experiment in true sustainability. Taking on a challenge from the American Hardwood Export Council alongside a host of other local designers, he has created a seat using lesser known American hardwood species with the aim of leaving as little impact on the earth as possible. His design, and all others under the Seed to Seat project, will be closely assessed for its environmental impact, including a calculation of the amount of time it would take for the wood used in each seat to naturally regrow.
Favourite wood to work with: Hard and soft maple, American walnut, American ash, French oak, kiaat and zebrano.