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Tonic Design's Creative Masterminds

Judd van Rensburg

A piece by Tonic Design is what many House and Leisure readers covet. With its list of accolades such as 'Best Stall at 100% Design' this brand has made its mark on the South African design industry - and this is only the beginning. In the November issue of House and Leisure, we showcased a number of decor pieces by Tonic Design in our 'Curate' feature and we promised you a follow-up. Here it is - an exclusive interview with Philippe van der Merwe and Greg Gamble. Tell us more about the names behind Tonic: Greg Gamble and Philippe van der Merwe. Where did you meet and how did the idea of Tonic Design come about? We met at Wits Tech in 1990 while studying Interior Design. After both working in different sectors of the interior design world we rather naively thought it would be much more fun to do our own thing (probably over drinks). We started in 1999 from a small studio and quickly realised that you only get the work you put out. So we decided to launch our first furniture range as a way of showing the public what we were really about. Before this we were busy but only doing very commercial projects. From the launch of our first range at the inaugural Rooms on View we quickly landed a few new clients who allowed us to do more interesting things. You have to go after what you want and leave behind the stuff that doesn’t interest you, even if at first it doesn’t seem financially viable.

unnamed Caletta armchair from R19 000 and Cala server R39 000, both Tonic Design. 

How do your design styles differ and ultimately, complement each other? We both have our quirks - I love colour, Greg is more monochromatic. Greg sees the detail and I think about the bigger picture. Although this is a simplistic way of looking at it, we are both concerned with all aspects of our work from conception, to detailing and construction. For the most part we are constantly overlapping on projects. We prefer not to give each other specific roles but to rather collaborate. This can cause disagreements but we like to challenge each rather than just doing our own thing. Your most recent collection Tonic, 100% Hotel is magnificent and just won the 'Best FURNITURE DESIGN' award at 100% Design. Tell us more about the design philosophy behind this specific collection. We try to design one or two furniture collections a year. The starting point is often quite vague - we know we want to do something creative, we would prefer it to be unexpected and yet not too wacky. For this line we set ourselves a few challenges, we wanted to avoid doing anything that felt too “now,” we wanted to avoid using too much contrast in colour and rather focus on the form and materials of each piece. It might also have to do with the fact that we both have very young children and this type of room all in nudes and beiges is about as far from our own homes at the moment as you can imagine. With this being 100% Design we wanted it to be a 100% original new design, it also had to convey our ideas around a Hotel concept, so we wanted something that was extremely calm and warm. It had to make people want to stay. Which piece in your latest collection is your absolute personal favourite? Philippe: I really like the armchairs (CALETTA  ARMCHAIR) Greg: the stone server (PODENCO SERVER)
Podenco server R41 000, Tonic Design. Podenco server R41 000, Tonic Design.

Tonic produces two new collections annually. Can you give us a sneak peak of what's next? We really try not to overthink this - we both generally do sketches or doodles of things that pop into our minds. These might be inspired by art, fashion, travel or architecture. We then sit down and run through our various ideas, often we see a tread and this will be the starting point. We haven’t had that meeting yet. Which national and international designers do you draw inspiration from? Philippe: I love the work of Vincenzo De Cotiis. The incredible use of unexpected materials and unusual form is inspiring, it’s so different from what we do. I find it quite mysterious. Greg: I agree with Philippe. It is so inspiring to see a designer that has invented his own design language. Vincenzo De Cotiis’ work is so unique and every piece is different but somehow his use of materials ties them all together. We were blown away when we first saw his work in Milan 5 or 6 years ago and now make an annual pilgrimage to visit his studio/showroom in Milan. Another contemporary designer working like this that I enjoy, is Rick Owen. Your forecast for 2017? We are not a huge fan of trends, they are the scourge of design. We feel it’s far more important to focus on what you like to see and respond to things that inspire you. Trends are commercially driven and are often followed at the expense of good design. See more of Tonic Design's pieces in H&L November 2016. Artist Profile Photographer: Sarah de Pina