Hlabisa Bench Blending Craft, Design and Technology

Furniture and product designer Thabisa Mjo has teamed up with Houtlander and master weaver Beauty Ngxongo to create the Hlabisa Bench. A striking object showcasing the best of South African design, craftsmanship, and technique that has become an instant classic. The collaboration came about when the curator of Revelations, a biennale Fine Craft and Creation Fair in Paris, invited Thabisa to participate in the 2019 event.

The Hlabisa Bench is inspired by memories of Thabisa‘s childhood visits to see her grandmother in KwaZulu-Natal. Marked by a distinctive silhouette the undulating curves of the bench’s backrest mimic the rolling hills of the local landscape, while the legs are reminiscent of potjie pots (a round-bellied three-legged pot) her grandmother used, and upon which are three interconnecting roomy seats inviting people to sit for a while.

Basket woven Hlabisa Bench

Blending storytelling with traditional skills and technology the Hlabisa Bench’s unique shape was developed using 3D modelling by Houtlander’s founders Stephen Wilson and Phillip Holland. This approach is a signature of the duo’s work aesthetic of creating furniture based on classic craftsmanship realised through technology. Their designs are made by Computer Numerical Control machines, in a precision-led production process that results in no nails or screws used in the joinery. Enhancing the quality of only use sustainably harvested resilient American Oak hardwood.

Hlabisa Bench pink diamond seating

Once the form was developed weaving the backrest proved to be a challenge for the trio, who soon realised they would need the skills of an expert weaver to navigate the spindles and create the pattern, which is where Beauty Ngxongo came in. The search for a solution had led them back to KwaZulu-Natal to an area called Hlabisa, which is renowned for the exceptional basket weaving technique of tightly coiled natural and dyed ilala palm grasses. An internationally recognised master weaver Beauty brought together a group of eight weavers and working to a 6-week timeline it took 1,300 hours to create the intricately patterned backrest. which undeniably is the focal point of the bench.

Unveiled at the opening of Revelations, the Hlabisa Bench is a story of heritage and modernity and tradition meeting technology.

– Tapiwa Matsinde

Additional details:

For further information about Thabisa Mjo visit: www.mashtdesignstudio.co.za

For further information about Houtlander visit: https://houtlander.co.za/

[Image credits: The images shown belong to from top, Houtlander; bottom, Rossana Orlandi. If downloaded and used elsewhere please credit accordingly.]

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