Mike Van Heerden
This week we chat to a man who is good with wood, Mike Van Heerden. Mike is an industrial furniture designer, which means he makes mad furniture and other cool shit mostly using wood. We chat to him about being at Design Indaba two years in a row, bringing designs from 2D into 3D and who else is repping the 031.
DIY: Give us a little background into who you are and what you do.
Mike: My name is Mike van Heerden, I live and have lived in Durban all my life. As a young child I found a branch that had fallen from a tree. I removed the bark from it and sanded it to a smooth finish. From that moment onwards I knew one day I wanted a career in carpentry. That branch was my best friend. I now run a Durban-based freelance furniture and 3D graphic design studio. I work mostly with wood, but also incorporate other materials into the creation of my designs. My work is appropriate for either home, office or various interiors. I’d like to think my creations are pretty quirky that merge aesthetics with functionality.
Not to sound cliché, but I find that the more challenging a job or idea is, the better the outcome is
DIY: When did your love for all things wooden turn into a career path?
Mike: From a young age I had always been interested in carpentry, but being a somewhat apathetic teenager, the desire to pursue carpentry and making important life decisions never really aligned. I chose the first idea that came to mind after I matriculated. That being graphic design. Not to say that is was a bad choice, but merely my first choice. Finally, when I was 25 years old and more aspiring, it suddenly dawned on me that I hated my job as I sat staring vacantly at my computer screen, feeling my soul slowly being ripped out. I decided that it was time to start pursuing things that were most important to me. That’s when I decided to quit my job and go back to university (D.U.T.) and get my degree in graphic design. That way I’d have a degree and learn something useful at the same time. I convinced my lecturers that I wouldn’t disappoint them if they allowed me to do my B-Tech topic on ‘The use of wood as a tactile graphic medium’.
DIY: Does your graphic design background play an integral part in how you construct your pieces? How difficult or easy is it moving from a 2D design space to a 3D one?
Mike: When coming up with a concept, I am usually able to visualise the design three dimensionally quite naturally. I definitely think that graphic design has played a significant role in influencing how I think and design. I think the main reason that I can visualise things three dimensionally before making them is because before I studied graphic design I went to a technical high school.
As you would imagine, learning how to make weapons in fitting and turning, fashioning prison shanks out of chalk (Standard grade maths) and how to hotwire cars can profoundly influence the way one thinks. All these great skills taught me how to be more practically minded. The subjects that influenced me the most were Technical Drawing & Technical-Mechanical. These helped me get a basic 3D & engineering grounding. Isometric drawings didn’t know what to do with themselves after I was finished with them!
DIY: What influences your creation process? And can you give us a quick breakdown in what is involved from idea to final product.
Mike: It’s quite hippy sounding, but I find that what influences my creative process is the daily interactions I have with the world and brainstorming with others. Usually I start by sketching out what I see in my mind. I find that it’s the easiest and quickest way to get a concrete idea onto paper. I unfortunately only know graphic design programs, so I work on the computer in 2D, using Adobe Illustrator. It’s not the most ideal way to work but the results seem to come out nicely. From there the fabricating part begins. With most projects I usually learn something new with regards to what can and can’t be done.
Most recently I worked with bent sheet metal and wood. It was quite challenging because I knew absolutely nothing about metal other than that it was shiny, but I think the end product turned out well. Not to sound cliché, but I find that the more challenging a job or idea is, the better the outcome is.
DIY: It seems this year’s Design Indaba expo had a strong emphasis on African identity and what it is that makes our country so unique. Did you consciously set out to enter this conversation with your aesthetics or did it evolve organically?
Mike: To be honest, I didn’t consciously design within the theme of African identity. I think my designs were just an extension of myself. My main goal for the Indaba in terms of design, was to create with no one particular in mind. It was an experiment that I wanted to try out. On the whole, the Design Indaba 2013 showcased so many talented designers that made me feel a little insecure about my own abilities.
It was awesome to see a lot of Durban representatives. Some of my favourite stands were created by Durban designers. I think that South Africans aren’t on the way to becoming internationally recognised as quality designers, because I think they are already on par with the rest of the world. We’re most definitely a talented country.
DIY: Did you manage to check out any of the other stands on display? Which were your favourites?
Mike: There were so many great stands, but among my top favourites were: ‘Woltemade (Emerging creatives)’, a husband and wife furniture design duo. ’20eight design’, whose concrete lamps were very cool. ‘Ikhaya’ had a great stand, as well as ‘Mr. Fox’(Emerging creatives), a Durban based brand that has a unique and fresh vibe. They’re really cool guys, which helped them stand out amongst the rest.
DIY: Which Durban brands are pushing the boundaries of industrial design?
Mike: In my opinion, guys like James Taylor (Newton Workshop), Grant Powell (Xolve), Mr. Fox and Gareth Henderson (GIH) are but a few industrial/furniture designers in Durban that I believe are really talented. Their work really inspires me.
DIY: What are your thoughts on upcycling and using discarded materials in your work?
Mike: I have upcycled before. I quite enjoyed the technique, because it fit my concept well. It was the right ‘medium’ for the job. As the great Richard Hart once said to me (in my B-tech questionnaire that he answered): “Sometimes a substrate lends itself to your idea, it’s just design, the same as it would be if you used glass, metal, paper or orange peel… whatever is right!”
DIY: Where can people keep up to date with what you are up to and purchase your work?
Mike: To see more of my work, make orders or get commissioned pieces, you can either go to www.and-sons.com OR www.be.net/mikevanheerden. If you’d like to see some of my other stuff in person, you can go past Nev the Barber in Glenwood (Corner of Brand & Cromwell), and take a look at some furniture I made for his store.