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Rising Stars 2013: Laurie Wiid van Heerden

For someone who knows little about your work and design aesthetic – how would you describe Wiid Design, and what are your biggest influences? The three biggest influences in my work are my experiences, personality and whatever material I have chosen to work with. In this case, that refers to cork, but I also love to work with timber and steel. I respect the material by using it in a way that takes into account its tactile properties and its differentiating qualities. To design unique pieces, using cork, sheds new light on the material. I would describe my work as friendly, in an aesthetic sense. There are certain details like beveled corners and particular shapes that seem to recur as if they can't be suppressed. When it comes to production and craft I'm a perfectionist; my objects are made from the highest quality materials by the best engineers and craftsmen in Cape Town. I have extremely high production standards, a non negotiable, as I am in the business of making heirloom pieces. The result is a lighthearted personality grafted onto uncompromising bodies (objects). Do you have a favourite item or furniture piece? My new ‘Apparition’ bench that went to Basel/Switzerland is probably my favourite. It’s mild steel and brass plated, and an ‘apparition’ in the sense that it looks like it’s made from something it’s not. My large timber and copper bench is also a favourite. I also love Oskar Zieta’s Plopp Copper stool and Alvar Aalto - Tea Cart. Your favourite material to work with is cork. Why cork? I first got into cork when I saw a design and art show in Paris. It looked like machined cork, but it wasn’t, it was actually moulded cork. That was when I first thought cork must be a wonderful material to work with – it’s durable, lightweight and eco-efficient when it comes to production and manufacturing. I travelled to Portugal (it being the highest cork producing country in the world) and it was amazing to see what they do! They only harvest the first bark from the cork tree when it’s 25 years old. There isn’t a phase in their production line that’s not sustainable – they reuse everything. When they burn the cork, they even use the steam to power up their machines and the excess bark is used for composites – milled up or reused cork. They have a new department of isolated corkboards, so I’m collaborating with an architect for World Design Capital 2014 where we’re going to build a house out of insulated cork. The insulated cork – or black cork – is steamed, swelled and then fired until it’s pitch black. Cork isn’t a pretentious product, but a really awesome material. If you smell cork and you touch it, you’ll just fall in love with it! What encourages you to work with mixed materials? I don't necessarily set out to use mixed materials in a particular design as it's being conceived. It depends on the concept and what function the conceived object is forming. It also depends on how the object is going to work/fit into a human environment. Economics also play a role, as this determines which materials I use.  That said, what comes out of this process are objects with different parts made from different materials, getting these different parts and materials to work together aesthetically and functionally, is a creator’s puzzle that I love engaging with. Why, in your opinion, is Wiid Design such a success? Attention to detail and perseverance. Before I send a product to a client, I personally make sure it’s perfect. I’m very hands-on; for instance, every cork tableware piece gets personally fitted, turned by hand and assembled in my workshop. I polish, buff and patina the copper and touch everything before it goes out. People are genuinely getting a one of a kind item. What are you working on currently, and what can we expect in the coming months? Cape Town and South Africa as a whole are still very conservative when it comes to buying products, especially when it comes to unique and high quality items. People relate better to steel, timber and copper because it’s more recognisable and familiar, so I’m focusing on keeping the range I’ve currently got, but raising awareness to cork and its possibilities. What are you working on for Cape Town WDC2014? Wiid Design is involved in a collaboration, ‘Corkabitation’ as it’s called, with dhk Architects – Aram Lello, Amorim cork and [o]house and we’ve submitted a proposal to WDC2014 to create a new pavilion – utilising the advantageous properties of cork – to be used during 2014 as a meeting and information point. Whether it is accepted or not, we are keen to make it happen regardless of acceptance. What is your favourite part of your design and manufacturing process? When it’s finally finished! When you’ve designed something, built it, made changes to it and seen the final product, that’s by far the most rewarding. I love seeing my products at a product shoot, emailing clients my new range, or delivering the products to clients personally (not always possible if they live in Joburg or overseas) but it’s great to meet the clients who have admired my work enough to purchase it. Compiled by Lisa Wallace