We asked Tiaan Nagel, Donald Nxumalo, Fhatuwani Mukheli and Keneilwe Mothoa to redesign a classic antique chair in their own style. Pull up a chair, and take a closer look…
When four of South Africa’s most celebrated creatives are called upon to bring new life to four humble dining chairs, the result can only be impressive. Using predominantly textiles, and their respective crafts, Keneilwe Mothoa, Fhatuwani Mukheli, Donald Nxumalo and Tiaan Nagel were each given free rein to reimagine an antique chair that embody their own personal style and design sensibility.
The creatives were given a blank canvas, so to speak, in the form of dining chairs from Millers Antiques. This Johannesburg-based antique dealership and design workshop, owned by the charismatic Carmit Bamberger, has long been hailed as one of the finest purveyors and makers of beautiful objects in the city, so working alongside leading creatives made for the perfect pairing and collaboration to test new ideas. Donald, Keneilwe, Tiaan, and Fhatuwani were each given their choice of textiles from Home Fabrics to incorporate into their designs, along with other materials they sourced, including metal, paint and thread.
As an interior designer, Donald Nxumalo’s career can largely be attributed to his love of objects from yesteryear. Having attended a historic school (and being a frequent visitor of antique fairs) his approach to design speaks to timeless narratives, noble materials, and classic patterns – all while honouring a modern perspective. Donald’s chair is every bit as bold and striking as his body of work. To contrast the soft lines of the wooden frame, he incorporated fabric with sharp geometric lines and colour. ‘This design was inspired by classic proportions that is prevalent in all my work,’ says Donald. ‘What I loved most about the fabric was that it is a geometric pattern that is modern and current, juxtaposed with the classic and softness of the frame from Millers Antiques.
For many years, Tiaan Nagel has been what can only be described as a champion of design. Having had one foot in both fashion and interiors for most of his career (Tiaan is a previous editor of House and Leisure) he understands craftsmanship and design like few others. ‘The starting point for my chair was Billy Baldwin’s iconic red living room, commissioned in 1955 by the legendary Vogue editor Diana Vreeland,’ says Tiaan. Honouring the original woodwork of the frame, but juxtaposing it with modern metal legs created by Pazz Modernist, he chose a lush, deeply hued red fabric. ‘Like Ms Vreeland, I find most shades of red a great tool to communicate new ideas – in this case, the idea of deconstruction, assemblage, and collage. I took a picture of the chair, cut off the legs, and glued a sketch in lipstick-red on it – very geometric as a counterpoint to the curves of the backrest.’ For Tiaan it was important to capture the concept of spontaneity and intensity, which he believes is what the red and severity of the geometric lines of the legs’ structure afforded the chair. ‘But it also coaxed up what Ms Vreeland’s red “garden from hell” – as she called it – represented: a sort of Frankenstein nightmarish take on the “traditional”, what’s considered “appropriate”, and what’s perceived to be good taste.’
It’s difficult to describe Fhatuwani Mukheli in just a few words. More than an artist, he is also a storyteller, a conversation starter, and in many ways, a pioneer. His work focuses largely on capturing reality; depicting the raw and honest moments in the world he sees around him. Through this approach, he showcases a unique point of view to local and international audiences. His chair is no different. Set against a vibrant fabric, graffiti dominates the design, illustrating new ways that street art can live in the home. ‘The chair was inspired by the time I spent at my grandmother’s house in Venda,’ says Fhatuwani. ‘She had blankets that had the same pattern as the one I chose for the chair and that’s a pattern that is very popular in my community, so I thought I could use something that would remind kids from townships and rural areas of their upbringing.’ Fhatuwani included a portrait of a woman to represent the unsung heroes who are living in townships and villages. ‘It’s a way of showing to our mothers and grandmothers that we see them and appreciate them,’ he says.
There’s nothing reserved about Keneilwe Mothoa’s body of work. Each of her designs and projects is woven with narrative and structure, and given life with bold colour and texture. Having been well-known in fashion and interiors for several years now, she embodies the modern design vernacular down to a T. So it’s no surprise then that her chair is as striking as it is, and dares to flow from its frame in an almost organic and playful way. ‘The idea was to see beyond the chair as being an object to sit on, or how it’s used in a general way,’ says Keneilwe, ‘but rather to create a feeling, and play. This allowed me to explore different ways of adding texture and colour.’ In this way, Keneilwe gives the viewer the freedom to interpret the chair in their own way. ‘One person could look at it and see a beautiful landscape, while another person could imagine ocean corals,’ she explains, ‘so the idea was to make it interactive and allow others to be part of the process.’ The process of choosing the fabric was a consideration of the textures that would be added. ‘I wanted something that I could latch, hook or weave onto, the terracotta base fabric is a colour that I use often, and I wanted to have that link.’