From woven baskets to reinventing the willow pattern, using an old-world technique to bend wood and an airport lounge dedicated to slowing down, here is our slow list – a selection of products and spaces created through processes that focus on taking time to perfect craft.
As a child, Cape Town-based antiques dealer Michael Chandler used to collect bits of blue and white porcelain along the Wild Coast where he grew up. The blue and white shard later became a motif in his own work. Chandler came to be a maker through curiosity and experimentation and his training in art history led him to incorporate narrative and storytelling into his designs. For his Cape willow pattern ceramic plates, he revisits and reimagines the willow pattern with historical South African imagery. ‘The willow pattern is the most reproduced image of all time and so it has an innate power that I find really interesting. I have taken the invented narrative of the original willow pattern – a tale of a forbidden and tragic love – and retold it with a Cape twist,’ explains Chandler. ‘My plate tells the story of events that happened in Tulbagh in the early 18th century. A young Dutch woman, Maria Mouton, and her slave and lover, Titus of Bengal, killed Maria’s husband. They were both executed at the Castle of Good Hope for their crime. It’s a tragic story that most South Africans have never heard, and one that I think should never be forgotten.’ The plates – made from stoneware with patterns done in cobalt ink – are available from Chandler House.
Comair’s made-to-measure airport lounge, SLOW XS, at Lanseria International Airport, is fitted in a refined palette accented with copper. Specialist design agency UNKNOWN helped develop the lounge concept, extending the extra-small scale across a range of items, from a limited edition volume of handmade guest books and sustainability-sensitive reusable water bottles to a taster-inspired menu and boutique, small-batch alcohol labels from microdistilleries. The Tonic-designed interior makes the most of fairly narrow spatial constraints, incorporating rounded, linear detailing that adds subtle sophistication to the furnishings and the light-coloured panelling.
Akosua Afriyie-Kumi + Weavers in Ghana
As a child, Akosua Afriyie-Kumi grew up around baskets. ‘I remember having many “I wish it was more like this, I wish it was more like that” moments,’ she says. This prompted her to think about how baskets could be better designed – more foldable, with blends of colours and beautiful detailing. Her company, AAKS, was established after she saw a gap in the market for beautifully handcrafted baskets and bags. ‘I knew I wanted to go out on my own and pull together all my passions and talents to create something unique that would be fulfilling both personally and professionally, so I embarked on my journey to Ghana to make this happen.’ The artisans that she works with create the baskets using a traditional weaving technique from Ghana’s northern region. The process starts with the ecological harvesting of raw raffia fibres that are twisted by hand. The fibres are then gathered and put into a dye bath consisting of natural and chemical dyes mixed into boiling water. Tree bark is sometimes added to create good colour intensity. To create the shape of each bag, weavers manoeuvre the strands between their fingertips, skilfully handling the raffia until the bags take shape. ‘There are no machines used in the weaving process. Because the bags are handwoven by individuals, each bag retains an inherent uniqueness,’ explains Afriyie-Kumi. The woven basket body is then transported to her studio in Kumasi, Ghana to be finished. After a final quality control, the bags are ready for postage to stores such as Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie in the USA; United Arrows in Japan and other clients around the world. Afriyie-Kumi is currently working on a new home interiors weaving project with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCR) in Burkina Faso.
The art of wood bending is an old-world tradition, revived by Woodbender, a brand that has been manufacturing furniture for 29 years. The wood-bending process involves steaming timber and then using steel formers and a rye bender machine. Once the bend is complete, the timber is placed in a kiln to set. The result is unique, elegantly curved furniture.
Moran Munyuthe + Swahili Traditional Carpenters in Kenya
After working for an architectural studio in Rome, Moran Munyuthe moved to Lamu Island to start work on a house for his mother. ‘Lamu has a rich sense of history and culture,’ says Munyuthe. ‘The island has not changed much in the last couple of centuries, it feels like you are stuck in time!’ The project saw him spending time in workshops with Swahili carpenters where he began to educate himself about their trade, which he describes as a hybrid of Bantu and Arabic styles. He was especially drawn to the intricate carving work and the beautiful Mashirbirya patterns. This is what led him to create the Mashirbirya chair and side table, using the wooden lattice screen that has been used on the exterior of Arabic-Bantu architecture for centuries. Each of his pieces begins with a sketch before prototyping in a workshop where his team work with a combination of traditional wood carving tools and modern machinery. Lamu has a rich history of traditional crafts like wood carving, palm weaving and boat building, which are all specific skills that have been passed down from generation to generation. ‘As a young designer, it is tempting to try to invent completely new typologies and visual languages without completely understanding or considering the ones we already have,’ says Munyuthe. ‘You can find yourself inventing solutions that already exist.’