Design Journey: Casamento

Design Journey: Casamento's Whimsical Hand-stitched Heirloom Chairs

WORDS Tracy Lynn Chemaly PHOTOS Kelly Walsh (team), Courtesy of Casamento

Whimsical hand-stitched heirloom chairs, sofas, cushions, headboards and ottomans are produced by Casamento in Cape Town. Founder and designer Starry-Eve Collett shares the brand’s journey.



My sister and I opened Casamento in Loop Street in 2008 as a business that sold refurbished mid-century furniture. By 2012, she had left, and Casamento had moved to the Woodstock Foundry, where we were making our own pieces – like this Juno chair. Back then I tried to only use natural fibres and no foam, something that’s much harder nowadays. My co-designer at the time, Henri du Rand, helped me develop this idea, using rough linen and raw silk laid over raw cotton and coir in a patchwork way. It led to the development of a specific deconstructed style for Casamento.



I discovered crewel embroidery through a book about the late American embroidery artist Erica Wilson – although our style is much more relaxed and naive than formal crewel. I created our first embroidered Protea sofa in 2013, and my team and I have been embroidering botanicals ever since. International clients find fynbos quite exotic. The variety is pretty extraordinary, and lends itself well to embroidery.



Casamento produced chairs and sofas for five of Nando’s global head offices. They wanted a bright African look, so I used felt – wool produces a very saturated colour and allows you to play with contrasts. In exploring African traditional designs, I discovered incredible colour combinations. Although beading is very time-consuming, I love anything three-dimensional.



Atang Tshikare and I worked together to create the Leifo chair, and launched it at Decorex as part of “We Are Cape Town”. The chair has a charred wooden frame in a classic antique shape. We were exploring the concept of “decolonising” this European shape, trying to break down its cultural associations and give it more freedom of expression. Atang contributed the backrest, and had it woven in grass in Lesotho. I love that the woven piece is left unfinished, and the way it resonates with the deconstructed upholstery. Leifo means “hearth” in Sesotho; our beading on the seat resembles sparks of fire.



During lockdown, after relocating the studio to Muizenberg, we created the soft furnishings for eight suites in a Belgian hotel called Indrani Lodge. It was a dream project; I was given carte blanche to come up with a different theme for each room. I looked to the Belgian countryside for inspiration, using moths, brambles, grasses and other natural elements in the designs. We’ve done work for various game lodges over the years too. I think people enjoy the luxurious quality of our embroidery – it shows the time and effort spent on a handmade piece, and they recognise that it is unique or one-off.



Casamento has become known for sofas that use more than one type of fabric, and I am always trying to blur the joins, usually with embroidery. Here, I started playing around with folding one fabric to look like a blanket wrapped around one end of the frame. I based the design layout of the stitching on a Basotho blanket, and called it “A Seat for My Ancestor”. The corner where the swallows are is where the spirit of your favourite ancestor will sit. This was a passion project for me, in between commissions, and allowed me to explore ideas that are meaningful to me on a more personal level. I would love to work on an exhibition with more pieces like this in 2022 and 2023.

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