Affordable objects of affection
Lunetta Bartz is the owner of the design studio simply called Maker, started in 2010. Situated on the now established gallery strip on Jan Smuts Avenue in Parkwood, it is a place where the creation of remarkable objects are commissioned based on the principles of usefulness and affordability.
Bartz is well known in Johannesburg art circles, having run the renowned gallery Siebrits Modern and Contemporary Art with her husband, art collector and aficionado Warren Siebrits on the same strip until its closure in 2009.
Her latest exhibition, Re-Shape, is a follow-up to her 2011 show titled Un-Shaped. Eight designers were commissioned by Bartz to rethink everyday household items, designing them as high-end, 21st-century objects of integrity. Streamlined, sexy and original, each is created with an awareness of the object’s place in the South Africa cultural landscape and in design history.
The designers are Lucia Duncan, Sanet Stegmann, Fanie van Zyl, Woltemade, the New Black, Shaw Sisters, Koop Design and Bartz herself.
What is your background and the history of the Maker studio and gallery?
I studied interior design at Wits Technikon [now part of the University of Johannesburg] at the beginning of the 1990s and practised as an interior designer for many years. I didn’t want to do art and my mother didn’t want me to be an engineer so I landed up being an interior designer, which is a very weird cross between the two.
At that stage, what was the interior design scene like?
We had a very amazing design school. Design started getting a lot more attention — a lot more money started to be put into design, people started looking a lot more carefully, not just going to Biggie Best or wherever. In Johannesburg there was only Boardmans and Wetherlys. You couldn’t go and buy anywhere else. On the design side you had Head Interiors.
What’s happened in the past 20 years is that people have moved through brands — people have bought Vitra, Knoll and all the big labels like Kartell.
And now people have moved beyond that and they want bespoke items that are made in limited editions that are crafted, made specifically in much smaller quantities. They are buying design as object instead of design as label. And that’s what I am interested in.
I know that the Southern Guild has a similar thing going, but what we are trying to do that is different is make it more accessible; making things anyone can afford to purchase. Everything here is reasonably priced for a start. Price is a factor when you are a first-time homeowner. And I think there is no reason why you should be excluded from owning fantastic design.
What are the ingredients that qualify as a well-designed object?
I think complete simplicity. My whole thing is around a mix of disciplines. I qualified as an interior designer and I work in many fields. I make books, design furniture and I sell art. So I have become this multi-disciplined person.
This exhibition has an artist, a photographer, an architect, a graphic designer, an industrial designer and an interior designer, which means that each one has approached the brief slightly differently, yet everyone has made something beautiful that we can use every day.
I am very interested in the Bauhaus principle, where art influences architecture and where drama influences art. It’s that thing of cross-discipline, because that’s me in essence. I couldn’t be a purist and do the same thing every day.
Who are your gods in the design world?
I’m not a big fan of interiors; I am a big fan of architecture. I am a traditionalist so one of my favourites is Mies van der Rohe. My favourite architect locally is Bryan Dunstan of BD Studio [whose notable works include designing a studio for artist William Kentridge]. I think he has changed the way we deal with buildings, yet he is so unknown.
You enjoy clean lines where the move is toward Baroque opulence.
Japanese gardens have influenced me, how everything you do has to have a purpose. You cannot draw a line because you need a line there, there has to be a reason.
Your favourite South African artist?
My favourite new person is Kyle Morland. Last year at the Jo’burg art fair I bought his work titled Fibonacci’s Spiral, which looks like a turd cast in copper. It’s on the floor in my entrance hall. And I’ve always been a huge Michael MacGarry fan.
Favourite place in Jo’burg?
Fordsburg. I go there once a week. I enjoy the vegetarian restaurant Swaruchi in Mayfair. Then the trendiest, hottest place is Leopard restaurant in Parkhurst.
Conceptually, what is the idea behind the show?
I am interested in form and obviously function is linked to form. I asked the designers to create a new yet accessible piece of furniture, an accessible object.
Maker, 142 Jan Smuts Avenue, Parkwood, Johannesburg. Tel: 011 447 6680. Website: makerstudio.co.za
Object: Slow Chair — Birch ply and coloured webbing
Designer: Richard Stretton, of Koop Design, produces buildings and products that are environmentally sensitive and energy-efficient. In short, sustainable green architecture. In Stretton’s 22 years of experience in architecture, design and manufacturing he has established collaborations with old-school carpenters, hi-tech fabricators and development workshops in rural KwaZulu-Natal. His furniture is described as playful, sophisticated, finely crafted and maintains an original and uniquely South African design identity.
Bartz says: Stretton, an architect from Durban, designed a similar piece of furniture for the Southern Guild show at Everard Read, but made out of solid imbuia, with rimpies. For me, I enjoy a ready-to-go, contemporary piece of furniture. When I spoke to him about doing the show he said he was dying to do that piece of furniture in a flat pack. I’m very excited about that because a flat pack means you can pick it up and literally walk out the shop with it. He has this thing for shape, which I love. It could be placed in a lounge or on a covered veranda, or even in a bedroom, a place where you dump everything.
Object: The Bureau — writing desk handcrafted in solid American walnut
Designers: The New Black is an independent communication design firm, based in Johannesburg, offering a holistic and multidisciplinary approach to design.
Bartz says: The New Black is a duo, Christopher Guy Palmer and Marina Garfolie, who designed my branding for Maker in 2008. They have a very particular conceptual way of looking at things, and an obsession with reduced functionality. I went to them when I wanted to start my store. I had a completely different idea of how I wanted my store to be, but they took me back to the principles I’m interested in: making things, creation and the real tactility of things and it comes through in this piece of furniture. You want to touch it and you want to open and close things.
It’s made in American walnut and they will not make more than three. It has very graphic lines. It has two panels that slide out and a flap in the centre that lifts for storage. Why? Because often you want a clean desk, this thing about your desk always encroaching on your workspace is overcome, you can clear things away.
Objects: Woven baskets — Ilala palm on wire frames
Designers: Shaw Sisters. Founded in Durban in 2010 by sisters Angela Shaw of Koop Design and Janet Shaw of the Zulu Beadwork Project. The Shaw sisters write, “We love handmade products and our vision is to identify, source and develop quality crafted goods for South African and international markets. Together we create seasonal stories that become our script for finding, developing and presenting our ranges every year. Our vision is to find new routes to market for handmade products. We want to be part of, and stimulate, an economy where independents and individuals thrive.”
Bartz says: The Shaw sisters work with the community in Durban to create more sustainable contemporary design. I asked them to produce something and at the same time they had been trying this thing with weaving. The baskets are their interpretation of contemporary weaving. They are paper baskets and laundry baskets, made by three different weavers. You can see the different styles in the shapes and the weaving.