As a contemporary and genuinely South African furniture and design company based in Johannesburg, The Urbanative’s products are manufactured locally. Expect a synergy between the juxtaposition of abstracted African heritage inspirations with the functionality and aesthetic qualities of modern furniture silhouettes, materials and technologies; whilst guided by the philosophies of storytelling, craft, collaboration and design evolution.
Started in 2017 by Mpho Vackier (a process engineer turned into area and furniture designer), The Urbanative works to constantly explore the role of culture and heritage representations in design. Along with the concept of visibility and representation of African cultures in modern society is the ultimate intention of telling African stories within modern furniture and product design.
Simplicity means sophistication: it is where great design leads to effortless functionality and where it encourages human connection. The Urbanative believes that design should be authentic and that it should improve life. It believes in telling African stories through design by elevating the importance of representation. The Urbanative believes in collaborating with amazing creatives globally, from Africa: the ultimate place to be.
‘The Homecoming collection began during the lockdown in 2020, while we were all permanent inhabitants of our homes. That space came to mean so much more to all of us in the uncertainty of an epidemic, and the people we were with also became synonymous with the sensations of ease, safety and refuge,’ says Mpho Vackier, founder of The Urbanative.
All of us were inspired or forced to use our homes as places of work and recreation, and as we shared the experiences and scenes we were living on social media platforms, we got to dive deeper into the lives and homes of others: from people living within varying architectural styles to the different health or lifestyle choices they make. These differences (shared virtually and visually) helped us discover details that make our individual ideas of home, universal. On close inspection, we can potentially all admit that what each one of us longs for from our homes are those feelings of safety, comfort and belonging.
As a brand, The Urbanative believes in telling African stories through design and the Homecoming collection’s forms, textures, lines and colour palette are all inspired by vernacular African architecture from Nigeria and Cameroon to Niger and Mali.
The rounded forms and relief details of the Musgum clay houses in Cameroon inspired the Oku Hut Candles; available in vanilla and sweet orange scents. The organic forms inspired the pattern play of our Zorora Quilt in collaboration with the local fabric house: The Mill fabrics.
By abstracting these inspirational vernacular architectural details and weaving the stories behind the global idea of home, this collaborative collection was created with a talented and devoted local community of makers, designers and crafts people.
The collection began with Akaya lounge chair and thereafter evolved to include sculptural lights with delicate details, as well as organic shaped ceramics and candles. It showcases comfort with soft seating in the form of a generous couch and architecturally inspired ottoman, as well as a modern take on an old school quilt and a beautifully crafted mirror that blurs the line between art and function.
The pieces of the collection were inspired by some of the above listed African vernacular architectural design and the naming of the pieces were all inspired by words that define home and the feelings around home in a multitude of indigenous languages from the African continent. Words that carry specific meanings and feelings were explored; from the Dehinineti Drinks Server which means ‘safety’ in Amharic (spoken in Ethiopia); the Isinmi Ottomans which relates to ‘rest’ in Yoruba (spoken in Nigeria).
Meanings closer to home were also explored. The Hlutha Table relates to the idea of being full/ fullness/ full belly in Xhosa (a beautiful illustration of not only being fed, but having a full heart too); the Legae Tray which means home in Tswana and the Hayani Tray, which means home in Tshivenda are also named after languages spoken in South Africa.
Naming the pieces of the collection in different African languages invites users to celebrate those languages, people and cultures, and – through their exploration – to learn more about the stories surrounding them.
When they’re created in communities by its people, works become more impactful and have a more resonating universal presence; creations become layered with the stories that are trying to be told, and also with the stories of the people crafting the pieces.
Says Mpho: ‘This, and The Urbanative’s obvious love for the contributors to this collection, was the driving force behind making this a collaborative collection. We want it to be unlike anything we’ve seen before by uniting local artisans who create a community of belonging.’
Features and Awards
2017: Mpho Vackier Design Indaba Class of Emerging Creatives
2018: The Urbanative South African Department of Trade and industry – Furniture Design Competition (first prize)
2019: The Urbanative Design Indaba Most Beautiful Object SA Nominee
2019: Mpho Vackier 100% Design SA – Designer of the Year
2021: Mpho Vackier Dezeen Awards Judge