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Q&A with Shirley Mast of Woodbender

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Clean-lined and refined, Woodbender's new Cala chair is perfect for contemporary open spaces.

Top local furniture manufacturing company Woodbender is marking its 30th anniversary with the launch of the sleek new Cala chair – all the more reason to celebrate a new milestone. We chatted to co-owner and co-director Shirley Mast about Woodbender’s past, present and future.

as a creative business owner, you have access to the latest international design trends. what are the top trends you see coming through in the next year or two?

It feels like we are on the cusp of moving away from some of the trends and popular designs that have been around for the last few years. For example, light natural timber has been very popular in line with the Scandinavian decor trend, but warmer, darker wood tones are slowly starting to gain popularity again. Having said that, there is still a love and deep appreciation of raw materials and timber, so the darker shades still need to clearly show the timber grain and authenticity of the wood. 

how does Woodbender incorporate these trends into its latest furniture collections?

All Woodbender furniture is available in your choice of timber finish. We manufacture in solid ash timber, responsibly sourced from sustainable forests in North America. The benefit of the ash is that it is a naturally blonde timber with a defined wood grain and therefore takes darker stains beautifully. We think that our Harvard Cherry and Walnut timber finishes will become popular as the darker wood trend gains momentum.
Woodbender co-owner and co-director Shirley Mast

The Chelsea Showwood Tub chair is Shirley's favourite Woodbender design.

how does Woodbender balance its 30-year company heritage and emphasis on superb quality with staying up to date in terms of design trends?

While being sensitive to trends and design evolution, we never compromise on the strength and durability that Woodbender products are known for. We have often had to abstain from popular furniture trends if the strength of the final product could be questioned. For us our product quality and longevity must always trump fleeting trends. We believe that because of this stance, when we do meet current trends our products do really well. Our clients can comfortably purchase a product meeting their design requirements, with the assurance that the item will last for generations to come and, if need be, perform well in high-traffic commercial environments.

what is the quickest and easiest way to update a home’s interiors?

By choosing classic furniture designs in a neutral timber finish with loose cushions you can update your look by simply reupholstering the cushions. A number of our dining chairs, stools and occasional pieces have this available as an option. Some of the simple upholstered seats can even be a DIY project. Alternatively, scatter cushions are an even easier way to update your look. Also explore pot plants and buying striking vases and foliage to create interest in your space.

which item in the Woodbender range is your personal favourite?

All of our products have a special place in my heart but if pushed for a favourite, it would be the Chelsea Showwood.

who is your favourite local architect or designer, and why?

René Winzker of 2AD Space Architects. René has been fantastic in interpreting our brand and designing our new Strand sales office and showroom to best showcase our brand and product.

which room in your own home that is most special to you, and why?

I love the patio of our home, which is large enough for relaxed seating and dining while enjoying its breathtaking view of the Helderberg and Hottentots Holland mountains.

what’s your favourite international destination for design inspiration, and why?

I always enjoy the vibe, scale and inspiration of visiting the annual Salone del Mobile furniture fair in Milan, Italy, which attracts visitors and furniture exhibitors from all over the world.

if money were no object, what piece of design or art would you treat yourself to?

I have a weakness for vintage toys. I have always wanted an American antique wooden model of Noah’s ark and all the animals: these were often handcarved by a family member and additional animals were given to the child on special occasions. Some that I have seen are weathered and have been much played with by their young owners – that really appeals to me. The other thing would be a vintage children’s pedal car.

with Woodbender celebrating its 30th anniversary as a business in 2018, what is the one thing you know now that you wish you’d known when starting out two decades ago?

I think the biggest lesson has been to embrace change and see it as a positive part of any aspect of life not the least in business. Nothing is static and one has to constantly be looking for new opportunity and direction with enthusiasm and energy. Turn to page 35 in our May Craft issue for more of our interview with Shirley Mast.