In conversation with Bielle Bellingham

We chat to House and Leisure’s Contributing Editor and the Creative Director behind Decorex Africa 

Photography by Alix-Rose Cowie and Pichulik

A former decor magazine editor, curator of Littlegig, and cultural instigator, Bielle Bellingham is a respected and progressive Creative Director in the South African design industry. In her most recent guise, she has taken up the role of curator for Decorex Africa where she is applying her visionary mindset to bring about positive change in the approach the shows take. Here, she shares what makes her tick, and how Decorex Africa has been reconceptualised.

‘With the involvement of the people we serve, I intend to co-create new ideas and new possibilities, as well as facilitate public engagement. I believe that curation can be used by both designers and consumers to encourage action that contributes to a more sustainable, ethical future.’

Please tell us about yourself and why you become a curator of the show?

I am BEYOND passionate about the role of art and design as catalysts for positive change. I have spent the majority of my career serving the 1% who can afford exceptional design, but I want to champion making decor and design relevant and accessible to everyone. I want to help to reimagine, reinvigorate, reorganise and commercialise change in the decor and design industry.

Photography by Micky Wiswedel  Styling by Bielle Bellingham

‘I admire beauty, but also recognise its lunacy. I am particular, but not precious. I recognise that creativity is a force, a burden and an absolute privilege. I believe that it is important to be rooted, but also to be able to flow. I value both intuition and interrogation.’

What will be the key drivers and concerns of tomorrow, and how does this translate into your role as curator? 

We have a responsibility to find better ways to produce and consume things in the future by rethinking how we do things today. We need to make sure that the next industrial revolution does not decimate the planet that we live on, like the previous eras did.

We have greater control over our work than we think we do; we need to design for people’s needs, not their wants. Living sustainably has gone from being a going concern to a commandment; investment in local communities has finally shifted from ‘nice where possible’ to a necessity; access to nature is no longer something for the weekend but for every part of the day; and the freedom to live and work as we see fit, defining our own rhythms and rituals, has been granted to millions, and needs to be given to millions more.

What we take, make, and what we waste, is a question of ethics, and they define where we’re going and how we’ll get there. This has been built into my curation, by way of a set of design principles that we drafted. Creating design for a new world means creating an environment that feels as fresh as it is familiar, including certainty alongside surprise. These principles will guide Decorex Africa’s design towards a place where inclusion, sustainability and excitement co-exist symbiotically.

‘In full bloom’ DIGEST feature in Vol. 2 : Bloom. Photography by Sarah de Pina.

How will you reimagine the show? What will look different? Or be different to how it was before?

We believe in building the new, not fighting the old. It’s not only about what we do, but also how we do it. We need a clear approach as to how we proceed. Key to all the work and decisions that have been driving our change at Decorex Africa has been a core set of values that influenced our redesign, our processes, partnerships, and culture, to ensure that we do things with intent, vision and meaning.

We redesigned our business for now, next and after we’re gone. The new show has a new look-and-feel, new features, and new design principles at our core. We are trying to open up the show to more than just the usual suspects, we want to create an event that is relevant and accessible to everyone.

What advice do you have for the industry?

‘Build in public’ – this refers to the practice of taking an audience along for the ride as you develop a product or service, even before it’s ready for launch. Share your ideas, open yourself up for constructive criticism. Building in public is a two-way conversation: I’m making something here, what do you think? Tell stories and share everything you do to spark discussions, and in doing so, make ideas stick and move people to action.

What’s key here is the concept of openness, which is foundational to creating success. Openness is a design tool that creates new organizational, social and commercial capabilities. Openness is cultural and mutual – the sharing and redistribution of knowledge, information, data, resources and wealth. Always be open to new ideas, new thinking, new tools and new technologies.

The next generation of designers, entrepreneurs, policy makers, etc., is reframing our nuanced, local realities, and reimagining the potential and power of business to create meaningful change. We don’t need more stuff, we need to do more with less. We need to critically examine our patterns and habits, and redesign them, sell them if we need to, but we mustn’t use unnecessary time, energy and resources where not required.

How do we design for the future?

Creativity takes courage. The greatest enemy of creative success is the attempt to fortify against failure. If you want to create the future, the new and the better, you are going to make some glorious mistakes, you are going to graze your knees. This is the process we all go through to get to create the truly valuable and original.

Positive change results from coordinated action, so we invite you to join us in championing inclusive, socially responsive, and responsible design. We need to audit the past and present, and design new systems and ways of being in order to redefine the possibilities of what could be.

In order to accelerate a better future, we need to plug in, play our part, be more inclusive, and stop making excuses. Big decisions need to be made. Together, we need to construct a new cross-disciplinary worldview that will propel us into the future of our choosing.

Let’s be the architects of our future, not its victims, as visionary Buckminster Fuller asked of us. Rather than competing to replicate the status quo, let’s start thinking at a higher frequency and come up with breakthrough concepts. Let’s ‘unsettle the present’ (Stephen Clark) rather than unsuccessfully trying to predict the future.


‘Think differently. Connect the dots. Embrace Africanism. Now more than ever, the world, and Africa needs creative, new solutions. And if not us… then who? If not now… then when?’

Visit Decorex Africa at CTICC from 16 to 19 June 2022 or Decorex Africa and 100% Design South Africa at Sandton Convention Centre from 28 to 31 July 2022.

@decorexafrica  @100percentdesignafrica