Spotlight on Houtlander, winners of Best Furniture Design at 100% Design South Africa 2017

Furniture makers Phillip Hollander and Stephen Wilson are on an enviable trajectory right now. Their furniture design company Houtlander showed for the first time at 100% Design South Africa last week and took the coveted prize of Best Furniture Design at the exhibition. The business partners exhibited a striking range, which they have been developing and refining for the last eight months. “You could say it was the relaunch of the brand Houtlander,” Phillip explains.

The pair draw on South African as well as Scandinavian craft traditions, translating and transforming different cultural references to create minimalist, contemporary pieces. “Our current aesthetic for the range is based on our take on a Danish style of spindle back furniture that meets Cape Dutch furniture that a lot of us grew up with. People just love it when they see the riempies [or leather weaving] hidden underneath the upholstery.”

We chat to the Phillip about their big win at the fair and making a living creating beautiful objects.

How did Houtlanders get started?
Houtlander as it is today is a partnership between myself and Stephen. We both started off differently. Stephen was an apprentice to an Austrian cabinet maker in Durban 15 years ago and I studied business management at Tuks while making furniture out of my dad’s garage. We both received incubation contracts from a place called Furntech that helps small businesses in the furniture manufacturing industry with machines and premises to work from. Steve was incubated in Durban and myself in Joburg. We met when we both got selected for a furniture design exchange to Sweden. Steve was looking for a new challenge and moved to Johannesburg. He joined the business after the trip. Our workshop is in Robertville, Roodepoort.

What type of material do you prefer to use and why? 
We primarily use Oak in the current range. Contrary to popular belief it is a sustainable hardwood. It also captures carbon that we keep locked in by making furniture that will last for a very long time. Sustainability is very important to us.

What’s your favourite piece from your archive?
It has to be the Coronation Bench we recently made for the WE ARE JOBURG stand at 100% Design.

How did you feel when you found out that you had won Best Furniture Design at this year’s 100% design?
We were absolutely blown away to be amongst people that you have been admiring your whole career and hearing our name being called with the likes of Gregor Jenkin and Dokter and Misses was a dream come true.

What are you most proud of in your work?
Making something that people can emotionally relate to. We had a 60 year old lady kick her shoes off to lie down on the studio sofa at our stand. She reminisced about the furniture that someone had made her parents as a wedding gift and felt that same connection towards our furniture. That was one of the proudest moments for us.

In which direction do you see your work going in future?
We are going to explore the use of spindles and turnings in our furniture for a while but we will definitely not stop there. We love the fact that we don’t use any screws or metal fixings in our pieces and will try to peruse this as far as possible.

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