Designers We Love: Peter Mabeo

INTERVIEWED BY Lindi Brownell Meiring

Award-winning furniture designer Peter Mabeo of Mabeo in Botswana has more than 30 years’ experience in the design and manufacture of custom-made pieces. We caught up with him following his exhibition at GUILD in February 2015.

What did you most enjoy about exhibiting at GUILD in Cape Town?

I enjoyed interacting with people immensely, from the organising team and the other exhibitors to the lovely ground staff at the event, the visitors from Cape Town, visitors from other parts of your beautiful country, from all over the African continent and from overseas. It was so great to be showing at a high quality, super creative event so close to home. I was curious about the appreciation of our work and if the context would be clear, especially with the prevalence of copied products in some design stores in South Africa. This previously made me hesitant. I am very happy to say that, by far, the overwhelming majority of visitors to our stand at GUILD were extremely supportive and appreciative. GUILD (and Cape Town) has been a great way to introduce our work to South Africa. We look forward to continuing to do this throughout the country through exhibitions, collaborations with crafters, galleries, museums, academic institutions, designers and architects. Really exciting!

What does collaboration mean to you?

It is always an opportunity for a deeper understanding of design and relationships.

Describe the Mabeo aesthetic in three words.

I find it difficult to describe something I am so close to. Also, there are no strict identity rules that we adhere to. Others have used words like simplicity, purity and honesty. I tend to remember these, as I hope we can live up to them somehow.

There have been other descriptions, including some that revolve around African culture and craft. I think craft and culture are a given, as we do not try to suppress it in the interest of being international, nor do we try to push it for the same reason. The intention is always to work in a way that feels easy and unforced. The resulting aesthetic hopefully reflects this in some way. I work with a group of men and women who play an important part in the whole creative process. Aside from understanding form, materiality and proportions, it is our limitations, our challenges, our individual cultures, as well as our group culture – with all its richness and all its baggage – that has shaped our work so far.

Are there any South African designers you’d like to collaborate with?

Porky Hefer is the first person we have collaborated with in South Africa. There are a number of designers who I have come to know about and whose work I appreciate, including Andile Dyalvane and Sipho Mabona. Aside from being talented, they are really nice guys as well and I believe that this is important. All of the great designers I know value their relationship with the world and with others.

What do you think is the most important aspect of sustainable design?

I think if it’s about environmental considerations alone, a preoccupation with making beautiful products, or a focus on just commercial success, sustainable design can become just another way of trying to become relevant and competitive. Unfortunately, this is the case for the majority. There are a few designers who are truly seeking a better way, beyond just our current definition of success. The funny thing is that they tend to produce better work. It is not always recognised for what it is, but it is undeniable.

Are there any exciting new projects that you’re currently working on?

We have participated in many exciting projects internationally. We have made pieces for a 200-room, 5-star design hotel in Stockholm (Hotel Nobis), as well as a seven-metre-long table for another hotel of the same group, also in Stockholm.

We also made 200 chairs for a design hotel in New York, furniture for fashion icons in Italy and pieces for an Academy Award-winning film director, to name a few. Exciting as this is, it is developing new work that excites me the most, especially when this changes preconceived ideas about people.

We are developing new pieces to be exhibited in Europe soon. Although it is a slow process, we are also developing works (beyond the realm of wood) with other crafters. We look forward to presenting these in South Africa soon!

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