by Marion Nowak

Port Elizabeth born architect and interior designer, Mlondolozi Hempe is the first Designer I had the pleasure of talking to for our “In Conversation With” series, ahead of the Designer Spaces Challenge at the 2020 Johannesburg HOMEMAKERS Expo. I chatted to Hempe about his inspirations, trend predictions and advice for design students.

Designer Spaces Challenge 2020

The Designer Spaces Challenge is an opportunity for talented designers to showcase their products and designs at our 2020 show taking place at the Ticketpro Dome from 27 February – 01 March. We have carefully selected eight designers who we will share with you over the next couple of months. 

The concept behind the InHabit theme is to create a space in the home, inspired by our motherland – Africa. It should display the unique design style of our magical continent. Africa is trending in fashion, design, and architecture and we have the whole world looking at us for true, authentic inspiration. The brief to designers is clear.  Enrich your concept with an African flavour that serves as an inspiration to embrace our African roots and bring these trends to life. Designers can choose to re-create any room in the house. From cosy reading corners and unique workspaces to eccentric lounges and opulent bedrooms, the options are endless.

South African Fusion

Hempe is the founder of the design company Umongo, where his projects are an exploration of art through design and architecture. He carefully fuses these elements with his South African culture and childhood experiences. Hempe obtained his Bachelor of Architectural Studies degree in 2011 and is a registered professional with the South African Council of Architectural Professionals. 

With a unique approach in combining contemporary elements in furniture with interior and architectural design, he believes that design is a “uniform language to be explored”. He offers a great understanding and passion for both architecture and design and it gives him an in-depth understanding of space and product. Also, an environmentalist, his extensive experience as a sustainability consultant encourages his approach to working sustainably.

Hempe says he likes to grow from the organic process into clean, linear symbols merged with unexpected materials. For him, this essentially enhances contemporary perceptions of structure and cultural references. He believes in dissolving boundaries and challenges stereotypes by searching for inspiration and having a conscious understanding of design. He likes to focus on what comes to mind naturally and transforming that into something soulful and symbolic.

Curating Designer Excellence

Having had a successful career in curating and exhibiting, Hempe took part in the 12 Rooms Exhibition in Cape Town, which featured on Top Billing. He also formed part of the Design Joburg Exhibition which was featured on SABC’s Afternoon Express show. He curated the Imbadu Collective exhibition and, impressively, also the Contemporary Art South African Exhibition at Art Sante Fe in New Mexico, USA. The exhibition included visual artists such as Andile Dyalvane, Sam Nhlengethwa, Pauline Mazibuko, Charles Nkosi and Andrew Tshabangu.

We were lucky enough to ask our first designer a few questions. This is what he had to say.

What is one thing every South Africans should invest in when it comes to interior design?

One thing no-one should skimp on is a good sofa for the living room.  In most cases, this is the centrepiece for your home and often people spend their weekends lazing around on the sofa. Having a sofa with good bones that can double as a comfortable day bed for you and yours is a strong feature for your home.  Good art too, always have art.

What are your colour trend predictions for 2020?

Firstly, I predict 2020 as the year of success, because most people will be achieving their goals. In terms of colours, I predict a lot of reds, oranges, and yellows. These are warm colours full of optimism, and we sure need it in this country. 

What is something or someone you always turn to for inspiration?

I have a lot of creative friends, so most often than not I just absorb what they do for inspiration.  In most cases, my inspiration comes from constant sketching, as I don’t believe in waiting for inspiration to hit. Working releases ideas.

How do you combine beauty and functionality?

I think this goes back to the sofa, but to sum it up, beauty and functionally is based on lifestyle and what makes you happy. What are your day to day activities?  Do you enjoy the outdoors? Your home must have hard-wearing materials, like items that are easy to clean because you most probably come home on weekends messy from a hike or mountain biking. That is just one example but start with things you like.

What advice do you have for students who want to enter the field?

It’s very difficult advising people these days because many things work differently. The one thing that I know works for all is to always be on the lookout for opportunity. Try to create your own opportunities and most importantly, never shy away from a collaboration. Never stop working because only work, works.

Follow our designer stories and keep an eye out for the next feature with our second Designer Spaces candidate.