There’s something fascinating about David Krynauw’s work. Our first introduction to the Johannesburg-based furniture designer was a peculiar cabinet known as the Ou Kas. Filled with a disposition, it sparked a conversation and recollections of epic fantasies akin to The Lord of the Rings, or horror film set design. Despite the leaning, the consensus was that it is captivating. The same goes for a lot of the David Krynauw pieces, unconventional or commercial.
Perhaps this stems from his freedom to experiment with different shapes and forms, breathing an air of novelty into his designs. Challenging the boundaries of “the most versatile medium on earth”– wood – to create the inspiring and unconventional. The Southern Guild SA aptly describes David Krynauw’s work as ‘Uncompromising attention to quality, detail and originality’. The self-trained designer has been in the industry for 11 years now and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. His iconic Haywire Chandelier received the Object that Moves Award from the Southern Guild Design Foundation in 2014. Krynauw later went on to win the 100% Design South Africa’s Designer of the Year Award in 2015. We caught up with the designer of the eponymous brand to understand the genius behind the unorthodox:
You’ve quite the history and journey with wood. (Read the whole story here) So how did you end up studying Agriculture and Winemaking ?
As a student I saw an opportunity in agriculture and went to Stellenbosch to study Agriculture and Winemaking. After specialising in winemaking, I was a wine maker for about two years. But I realised that I wasn’t happy. So I decided to move back to the family farm to start the business. It started out very basic; just teaching myself basic joining skills. I improved my skillset and taught myself to make even more complicated things. And so my range started growing. My business was situated on the farm for six years.
Why did you relocate ‘David Krynauw’ to Johannesburg?
Most of my business was focused around more designer-oriented work so my client base was more Johannesburg and overseas. So we had to travel quiet a lot between the farm and Joburg. I really enjoyed the simple life in the rural area but I realised that I couldn’t sustain myself with all the travelling. So I decided to make the move in 2014, with two trusted workers. Since then, we’ve grown to 63 employees.
That’s certainly a change…
True. [In the beginning] Most of the work was hand-orientated and there weren’t very structured processes as I was executing a lot of the work. With growing and hiring more staff, I had to implement processes for my business to sustain it. It also involved up-training a lot of people who don’t really have the skill for my business needs. Which has been challenging but also enjoyable.
How would you define the David Krynauw style?
Very unorthodox because it’s using wood in a slightly different way than traditional means. The work is a direct reflection of the process that my team and I have been using; in terms of learning about our craft and developing our skills. It’s about thinking outside the box. I think Africa is a little different from Europe in where we are sort of forced by our circumstances and limitations to think a little differently. A lot of the aesthetic that you see in my work is formed and crafted from our design language which I developed. I call it the design language because it’s sort of the rules which we follow to create.
What is your inspiration?
The inspiration is something different from the technique and it comes from different things, one being my Cape Dutch heritage. I’m Afrikaans and in South Africa we have a rich heritage of heirloom furniture; which I’m continuously reinterpreting in my designs as well.
Then there’s what I like to call free expression. When you’re trained in a design school, you’re groomed to think within the box of geometry. Don’t get me wrong, I like the fact that some designs are quite mathematical in origin. I’m not a trained designer and there’s something about free expression, where you can take something from the hand sketch to the finished product without set rules.
David Krynauw Ontwerp
A lot of the aesthetic that you see in my work is formed and crafted from our design language, which I developed.
We continuously learn from our process, adapting and improving it from what we’ve learned. If I’m doing an interesting shape, seeing on whether the inspiration is from a previous generation or a mathematical derivative, a freehand sketch or existing Danish inspiration, all of that allows me to be expressive.
Previous articles highlight that you stay away from mass production…
The business has different aspects. It has higher volumes of commercial work, then it’s got its custom work which about 30-40%. We also have the collectables that are one off pieces which are designed for client or a gallery. Everything is made to order at the moment. My factory has more capacity than what I’m currently supplying, but my approach has always been conservative.
One of the projects that gets a lot of coverage is your Chapel project. Why did you decide to branch into buildings?
It’s always been part of the dream and I’ve always wanted to make bigger-scale structures. When I developed the unique assembly process for my furniture over three years ago, I realised that it could be applied to architecture as well. So I was looking for the opportunity to do it when one of the couples who were working for me at the time was getting married. That was the perfect excuse to build the chapel and we made it from the eucalyptus grown on my dad’s farm.
What was the public reaction?
The interesting aspect about any David Krynauw furniture or product is it has a life cycle. That is, whatever I develop now will only begin to really sell it in two years’ time. For example, it took me that long to sell my first haywire and since then it has sold really well and at a very high price. There’s a lot of patience involved. That’s why it was very urgent to begin experimenting with the buildings and start capturing the client’s imagination.
The Chapel led to the creation of the Kleine Rijke. This Cape Dutch-inspired building was my first large scale exploration which I built with my girlfriend last year. A lot of challenges came through as well, such as the cost of development which is quite a difficult thing to manage. As much as I want to pursue the creative side and make whatever I want, it has to be balanced with the business aspect, the affordability and the actual return of the development.
Are there pieces that you wish got more exposure?
I’m always trying to educate my more conservative clients to buy the more experimental products. I would like people to pay more attention to my play range, as well as, the more unorthodox furniture and the buildings; which I really love.
Why the Play Range?
They’re versatile and functional. They unlock the imagination of the client. Take the Play Bench for instance. When you place this functional rocking bench next to a normal one, people are often drawn to the former. Thus, it become exponentially better because people want to use it. You could sit on it, or chose to lie on it and rock yourself sleep. It sparks conversation and children can play with it too.
Do you have a favourite piece?
The haywire is very sentimental to me because I was quite young when I designed it. Then there is the D1 which represents progression. Sort of like a testimonial that a small deviation on the design can make such a difference. My other favourite is the Kas 1, because it was the prototype of my Joburg method; which led to a lot of my range.
Anything new in the works?
Yes, I really want to do cost-effective housing solutions. I believe that my process can offer aesthetically pleasing housing solutions to a broader scope of people. It will be very expensive for me to develop and I can only proceed if I have commercially successful products. So, I’m trying to design more of those first to eventually achieve the housing.