Siyanda Mbele infuses his modern furniture designs with Zulu symbolism
Siyanda Mbele, a Durban-based interior and furniture designer at Pinda Design — a company known for its beautifully crafted furniture pieces that celebrate traditional African aesthetics in a unique and contemporary way — gives us some insight into his life and work.
Describe yourself in five words.
Ambivert, caring, intelligent, funny, overthinker.
Where did it all start, and where are you heading?
It started in 2013 during my final year of interior design at the University of Technology when I showcased my work at Design Indaba's Totemism: Memphis meets Africa exhibition, curated by trend forecaster Li Edelkoort.
Pinda Design was established as a business in October 2015, after I was part of a pilot incubation programme by the SABS Design Institute. I am now enrolling to do my master's in interior design as I believe it will enhance and strengthen my skills going forward.
Your favourite part of the design process, and the worst?
My favourite part is that actual moment when the idea enters my mind, which is usually followed by extreme excitement and endless sketching out of ideas that lead to the point when I can go ahead with the idea, or discard it.
The worst thing during this process is when the idea really works on paper, but becomes impossible due to manufacturing limitations — and I have to let it go.
Your go-to if you have a creative slump?
My friends, especially Simphiwe Mlambo, who also happens to be an interior designer. He always gives me honest, straight-forward advice without sugar-coating things to protect my feelings. We discuss what design could ignite the excitement again, how it would potentially be received in the market, and its lifespan.
Who inspires you, and why?
Theo Baloyi, Trevor Stuurman, Donald Nxumalo, Andile Dyalvane, Thabisa Mjo, Tracy Lee Lynch and Tristan du Plessis, to name a few. I'm inspired by their different traits and their bold approaches towards design, also their individual brands. I love the way they articulate their ideas through their work, that in turn educates their audience on the creation and life of a product or interior.
What pieces do you wish you'd designed yourself?
The navy blue chaise designed by Rich Mnisi from his Nwa-Mulamula collection — it would work so well in my living room. I love the glass and solid bronze Kaggen side table and the Metsing coffee table designed by artist Atang Tshikare and Okha Design studio. Also any illustration by Rendani Nemakhavhani — she makes me want to be an illustrator.
What's the most exciting project you've worked on? What are you looking forward to?
I'm collaborating with Afrimodern and Renaissance Design on a project called "Speaking Truth to Power", a Nando's initiative. I'm thrilled to be part of the whole process, from its conception to the final outcome.
What was the last décor object you bought?
Two beautiful glass vases from @Home that have become more functional than initially intended. One I've started using as a candle holder, thanks to Eskom!
Whose work would you love to own, and why?
Something from Nala Pottery. I grew up with Zulu pottery in the house and it was often used during traditional ceremonies to house and serve Zulu beer. Only when I became an interior designer did I start seeing these magnificent vessels as bespoke décor items. I love how the potter can infuse their trademark style while still maintaining the authenticity of this ancient African craft.
Who would you like to collaborate with?
Ndebele artist Esther Mahlangu. When I started designing, I was heavily inspired by Ndebele wall art and its similarities with Zulu beadwork. I believe with my experience we could create a sensible collaboration, and the concept of fusing certain Zulu symbolism with Ndebele symbols is such an exciting idea.
• Photographs by Simanda Zongo and Njabulo Magubane.