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A South African design collaboration using distinct natural materials

Future Heirloom is a collection with seven South African designers exploring sustainability in design

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By House & Garden South Africa | October 20, 2022 | Design

In July 2022, Always Welcome and the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) announced Future Heirlooms, a project to explore the future of sustainable South African design.

Fast forward three months, and the group of seven South African designers from 3 provinces across the country have created a series of works that not only look forward to the future of sustainable design, but also explores their own heritage and the story of South Africa’s rich design legacy.

Created in American red oak by celebrated hardwood furniture designer-manufacturers Houtlander and timber importers BOS Timbers, the seven pieces — by Dokter and Misses, MashT Design Studio, TheUrbanative, Kumsuka, Kalki Ceramics, Joe Paine in partnership with Nathan Gates, and Nøde Studio — are a celebration of material and memory, and ask pertinent questions about our approach to the environment, says Roderick Wiles, AHEC Regional Director.

“We need to end our current throwaway culture and we need to use materials that have a low environmental impact. These issues should affect all our day-to-day decision-making. Designers, especially, have a huge influence on how products are planned and with what materials. This project was the perfect platform for us to work with accomplished South African designers and makers, whilst also helping them to work with an abundant, versatile and beautiful, yet lesser-known American hardwood species.”

For the designers of the show the project has offered a unique opportunity to explore alternative manufacturing methods, and the beauty and versatility of American red oak itself. “The material intrigued me from the outset of Future Heirlooms. I became fascinated by the seemingly endless possibilities of American red oak itself that, coupled with Houtlander’s special ability to work with timber, set my imagination alight and I just had to see what could be made,” says Thabisa Mjo, founder of award-winning Johannesburg based product and furniture design group MashT Design Studio of her participation in the project.

The seven pieces will be exhibited at the Always Welcome Viewing Rooms in Sandton, Johannesburg, until November 2022, and will then move to the new Always Welcome Heritage House in Cape Town in January 2023.

It’s our hope as Always Welcome that this project inspires important discussions around sustainability in South African furniture design, and that the personal narratives of each designer imbued in each piece brings joy and delight to visitors of the show during its run,” says Garreth van Niekerk, Director and co-founder of the Always Welcome collective.

Such is the size of the US hardwood forest resource and so dominant in the forest is red oak at roughly 18% of the total resource, that all the red oak lumber used to make the seven designs would have been replaced in the US hardwood forest through natural regeneration in just 1.35 seconds.

For more about Future Heirlooms make sure to follow the design journey as it unfolds on the AHEC and Always Welcome websites and social media platforms over the coming months, and make sure to keep an eye out for further announcements as this exciting initiative evolves into its next phase.