There is nothing more exciting than finding a gem. This is one of them; with a story to back it. Our story begins on 16 April 1989 when Jane Perlez wrote a feature for the Chicago Tribune on the famous deck used in the movie ‘Out of Africa.’ The deck chair was the same one brought by Karen Blixen when she arrived in Kenya by ship in 1914. Marc Van Rampelberg, the main man in this story, a furniture maker and designer, restored the chair that played so well in the Blixen veranda at the foot of Ngong Hills showing Merly Streep, who played Karen Blixen, stretched out on it. From that moment, Van Rampelberg made copies of this chair, which continue to make their way into many homes in Kenya and across the globe.
Van Rampelberg is a Belgian national who, at the time that article was written, had lived in Kenya for over 15 years. Along with the famous ‘Out of Africa’ designs, Van Rampelberg designs desks, armoires, tables, chairs, beds, and bar stools that are handmade in Kenya with a subtlety and precision in design that translates through every generation; the true makings of a legacy. Van Rampelberg works with wood by dividing it in slices, rejoining them to create a smooth finish and round shape hence the seamlessness in each piece.
The start of his illustrious career in furniture making began much earlier whilst he was still working as a full-time French teacher at both the German School and UNEP. It began by creating what his family needed from the cradle to beds to bed side tables. Van Rampelberg noticed over time that his furniture had a singular style whereby he states “[t]he defining aspect seemed to be a desire for ‘oneness’, where the different elements would flow into one another as if the object came from a single mold.” How true that is when you look at his pieces.
His first exhibition was on 11th April 1987 at the Goethe Institute in Nairobi which turned out not only to be a grand success but also a turning point in his career; Rampel Designs was from then on full time with 12 core employees. The character of Rampel Designs, he describes is “being the result of two worlds, both in space and time.” It is both contemporary and influenced by Western conception of taste and beauty with a modern minimalist essence.
Van Rampelberg describes his creative process as “[q]uite a feat to three-dimensionally hold a picture in the mind’s eye! I then need to freeze it very soon after by quickly and roughly sketching and adding notes to remember elements that are not obvious in the poor little sketches. The main job of creating is done!”
There is truly not much more to say about Van Rampelberg and his work other than to show you and have you be the judge of it. See below and tell us which one you would pick.
You can find them here: Baba Dogo off Thika Road highway, where Rampel Designs continues to flourish with Marc at the helm, his son and assistant-designer Rik, and its 50 employees.
Check them out on Facebook.