Joanna Orr, creator of Head on Design, in her studio with a White Kudu head | Images from Head on Design

Joanna Orr is the eco-friendly founder of Head on Design studio in Cape Town, which specialises in wall-mounted and freestanding home decorative sculptures with a twist – inspired by the wire and Kudu heads sold on the flea markets of Cape Town.

Head On Design is dedicated to the appreciation of South African wildlife through design. Talented designer Joanna Orr makes a commendable to effort to conserve our environment by providing a sustainable, cruelty-free alternative to trophy hunting, with elegant Afro-chic 3D designs.

I rarely create anything without some kind of social or environmental commentary – if it were just about aesthetics, what I do would be meaningless to me.

Head on Design uses sustainable materials such as Xanita Board, which is an engineered wood panel, made from upcycling cardboard boxes and sugar cane waste fibres as well as bamboo, which grows quickly with little water and overgrazed soil.

Jozi Printed Kudu Trophy Head-R1,600-R2,400
Jozi Printed Kudu Trophy Head- R1 600-R2 400

Joanna has also been working with local artists to create a new range of sculptures painted in a style that is typically embracing of current African trends; sculptures are sold as originals or as prints with the artist’s signature. This particular piece above was illustrated in 2011 by Sharon Boonzaier from Sharon B Design, who we recently interviewed right here at DECO. It is inspired by the streets and culture of Johannesburg.

We caught up with Joanna who provided us with a little more insight on what inspires her and her plans for the future, with a quick Q&A.

Buffalo Trophy Head in Xanita Board- R920- R1,720
Buffalo Trophy Head in Xanita Board, R920-R1 720
Where does the inspiration behind your current design concept come from?

We are spoilt with an unbelievable natural heritage in Southern Africa and I have always enjoyed drawing wildlife. As I am not a fan of trophy hunting, I felt I needed to let others know of my love of the African bush. Hence, the irony.

Tell us about life before Head on Design and the journey you took to get this far…

I studied Graphic Design, but looking back, I should really have done Industrial Design. I would sneak into the workshop until I got chased out for using the machines. It was in one 3D class that I learnt how to create a sculpture that requires no glue – by slotting pieces together to create the 3D form. I made a large chameleon perched on a log. It was only 15 years later that I thought to use the same technique to create wall-mounted heads, wanting to make a ‘trophy’ head for a friend as a housewarming gift. The strong message intended in that gift has continued throughout my ‘trophy’ range.

How big a part does sustainable design practice play in your work?

A great part of my philosophy is to use recycled and sustainable materials. Xanita Board, produced in Cape Town, is made from recycled cardboard boxes and sugar-cane waste; bamboo, nature’s new wonder plant, grows quickly with little water in soils that have been overgrazed – no pesticides or fertilizers are used. I try to keep my carbon footprint low, making use of local suppliers as much as possible.

What were you hoping to accomplish by starting Head on Design?

I believe that design is essentially the creation of any object of beauty combined with function. Function could mean a message or a use. I think I have accomplished an element of both in the heads and the bookshelf.

Red Suede Kudu Head- R1,800
Red Suede Kudu Head, R1 800
Who are your designs targeted at?

My sculptures appeal to a wide range of people; kids love the smaller, simpler sculptures as well as the giraffe bookshelf, while the larger heads suit a more luxurious/high-end taste. Tourists also love the fact that they can walk off with a flat-packed item that can fit in their suitcase.

Do you see yourself delving into a different style of design in the near future?

I am moving more in the direction of furniture design; the giraffe bookshelf is the first of a collection of functional designs. Watch this space!

(left )Elephant stand,R560 (right) Giraffe Bookshelf,R6,800
(Left) Elephant stand, R560 | (Right) Giraffe Bookshelf, R6 800
The fact that your customers can assemble their own sculptural pieces is interesting; what is your policy on damaged goods and the overall lifespan of your products?

I’ve still got one of my original large Kudu heads in Xanita board on my wall – his name is Albert – and he is five years old, showing no signs of wear or tear. The bamboo and leather sculptures have a longer expected lifespan than the Xanita Board. If someone does have a little accident and damages a piece during assembly or something is damaged in transit, I am happy to replace the damaged piece.

Bamboo Kudu Head- R880-R2280 Head On Design Packing
(Left) Bamboo Kudu Head, R880-R2 280 | (Right) Head On Design packaging
Do you custom-make any of your sculptures to suit a client’s needs?

Absolutely – I love commission work. Over the years large corporate companies have asked me to do freestanding animals for various displays/campaigns; even life-sized pieces such as the large rhino sculptures seen in the windows of Woolworths for World Rhino Day, September 2012. I work closely with interior firms on custom projects as well.

Bamboo Rhino Stand- R180-R280
Bamboo Rhino Stand, R180-R280
Where do you see yourself in the next few years and how do you intend to keep your brand relevant?

I intend to continue with the concept that we need to respect our depleting resources – using recycled and sustainable materials such as the Xanita Board and bamboo is very important to me. I will continue to support organisations doing great work to protect our natural flora and fauna.

What was the highlight for you at the recent 100% Design? Would you attend in future?

I thought the standard was very high; exhibitors made a huge effort and it was well received. I will definitely return.The highlight for me was the launch of my lion head, which I have been working on for a while. Sadly, it coincided with the awful story of Cecil the lion, so I decided to donate 10% of proceeds to EWT’s carnivore conservation programme.

Lion Trophy Head, R1,980
Lion Trophy Head, R1 980

All images courtesy of Joanna Orr and Head on Design.


Head On Design products offer style-conscious customers modern sculptures for contemporary spaces. With a vast variety of bamboo and printed Kudu heads, to freestanding animals in recycled board, each sculpture is carefully designed, hand-crafted and then machine-cut to get a realistic 3-dimensional form.

Joanna’s sculptures can be purchased from her online store and from the following retailers:

Cape Town Retailers:
Sharon B Design: Watershed Shop F58, V & A Waterfront
Head On Design Studio: Unit 2, Canterbury Studios, 35 Wesley Street, Gardens, Cape Town
Itchy and Stichy, Noordhoek
Red On Top, Green Point
Haas Collective, Buitenkant st

Joburg retailers:
Mot Mot
On a Whim

You can also follow Joanna on Twitter, Instagram and like her Facebook page.

LIKED THIS? Then you’ll love the article on Cape Town’s local talent, we recommend you read SHARON B DESIGN – NURTURING NATURE THROUGH ART.

Charne Mingo ELLE DEcorationDECO intern Charné Mingo is an aspiring street and fashion photographer, with a background in TV, set design and writing. She is a free-spirited explorer, with a passion for travel and meeting people from all walks of life. She finds peace in cooking, exhilaration in cycling, solace in reading and absolute bliss in walking her dogs whilst listening to music. Follow Charné on Instagram @charne_mingo