Art and Design

A couch that creeps into fashionistas' hearts

Carl Collison

As the name suggests (songololo is the isiZulu word for "millipede"), the inspiration for the design comes from nature's ubiquitous creepy-crawlies.

A bug’s life: Haldane Martin’s Songololo sofa is priced from R195?000, depending on finishes.

“I’m often referred to as the Songololo Man,” says designer Haldane Martin. The reason for this moniker he half-embarrassedly admits to is, of course, his Songololo sofa.

As the name suggests (songololo is the isiZulu word for “millipede”),  the inspiration for the design comes from nature’s ubiquitous creepy-crawlies.

Another reason for its creation — the designer’s wish to “create a couch that could be curved into different shapes and adapted to different interior layouts” — was also precisely what presented him with the biggest challenge. “It took a really long while to figure out the mechanism that allows for it to be moved into different shapes,” says Martin.

The pivot and bracket system he has subsequently patented allows not only for malleability but also for variances in length. “Although the average length requested is between 4m and 5m, we have had requests for more than 6m.”

Martin, who has exhibited his works nationally as well as in Madrid, London, Paris, New York and Copenhagen, says, “if people want shorter couches made we could do that too”, but the fact that these pieces of furniture are not exactly standard should make it unsurprising that his slinky design has wormed its way mostly into the glamorous interiors of luxury-centred businesses: from airport lounges and Cape Town’s plush 15 on Orange hotel to the Paris headquarters of Portuguese couturier Felipe Oliveira Baptista.

“We’ve also sold a few to domestic clients as well,” he says. The grande dame of South African fashion, Marianne Fassler, for example, “has one in her Cape Town home”.

The diverse range of clients who commission this award-winning designer — from hotels to domestic clients — is clearly drawn to his “striving to meet the needs of the whole human being in an integrated way”.

Although he ascribes his significant body of interior design work for hospitality-industry-based businesses as the result of the strong local tourism industry, he also notes that domestic client numbers are on the increase because “hotels are becoming more like homes, while homes are becoming much more design focused”.

What, then, is most important when designing? “The main challenge is to integrate aesthetics, functionality, concept and marketability into one cohesive whole that people can relate to. I really want to create the kind of pieces people will ­remember.”

Given the, er, legs on this particular creation, it would appear he has achieved just that.

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