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Siyanda Mbele is making a name for himself in the world of contemporary South African furniture and interior design. His streamlined and stylish designs regularly reference his Zulu heritage. We caught up with the designer to find out a bit more about his inspirations and the importance of culture in design:

1. What led you to furniture design, how long have you been working in the industry, and what do you enjoy most about your job?

I have always been interested in created objects. At first, I was obsessed with drawing/ designing cars. Gradually I started loving furniture specifically tables, this was back in 2009. After finishing my first year at University, I knew for sure that I want to pursue furniture design. I have been in the industry since 2013, never had a full-time job, and always been part-time. I enjoy designing and seeing the final product, and what happens in-between that is normally crazy.

2. Do you make your products yourself, and what materials do you like to work with?

I have manufacturers who make the products. I design and choose the materials, or the client chooses. I love working with wood and metal, I love the contrasting textures and the endless finishes that can be applied to the materials.

3. Your work -for example the Pinda, and the Ndalo Nesting tables collection- heavily references your heritage, how important do you think culture is to design?

After studying interior design and working in the industry, I was bored of the same western look. I was more interested in contributing to the South African design aesthetic. I want the products to serve as an educational/ conversation starter about the cultural influences. I realized that I needed to touch base with my Zulu roots, also the people around me were talking about how we have lost touch with our culture. The content I was seeing in the media lacked the African context. Having heritage influencing design can restore culture.

4. What other influences, if any, inspire your work?

Being around people who push boundaries regardless of their current circumstances. I also draw a lot of inspiration from music, sometimes I can imagine and/or relate objects to an instrumental. Umlazi township, where I was born and bred, and iNdanda where I currently live are great sources of inspiration, my surroundings are raw and there’s a lot of natural elements like mountains that inspire me.

5. Do you have a favourite piece from your collections, and why?

Mvelo Desk, without a doubt. I drew it in 2012 then kept on developing the design. It started off being Ndebele inspired but at the time I realized I was forcing it. I would constantly think about it. Then my career started getting busier, and noticing that everyone around me was work bound it hit me that we spend so much time working and I wanted to create a piece that spoke about the commitment we make to our desk or careers.

6. What piece of advice would you give to someone looking to carve out a career in furniture design?

Be original, be resilient, be self-aware, strive to develop and become a better leader and better the quality of your product. Enjoy it, learn to listen, take responsibility. Do it for the right reasons, even when the money is not coming in, you can still continue building your career. I can go on for days.

You can find out more about Siyanda Mbele and keep up with his latest product designs by visiting

– Tapiwa Matsinde

This interview first appeared on Atelier Fifty Five, 10th March 2017.

[Image credits: The images shown belong to Siyanda Mbele, and the Ndalo Nesting Table Photo credit Njabulo Magubane and Simanga Zondo. If downloaded and used elsewhere please credit accordingly].

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