Port Elizabeth-born architect and interior designer, Mlondolozi 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. He is also a judge for the Dezeen Awards 2021 among many other international designers and architects.
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.
When do you know if a design is successful?
A successful design can be determined by how well the elements work together in achieving the desired aesthetic. Achieving the clients brief as the space must be anchored to the client’s needs from fabric selection, furniture choices and accent pieces. A successful design combines all these items seamlessly while keeping your signature as designer while marrying to client’s aesthetic.
You’re an architect and also an interior designer. You must be constantly looking to the future. What do you see?
With the COVID-19 pandemic almost everyone has fallen in love with the idea of comfort and style in their private residences. People are much more conscious about what they are bringing into their home. I think architects and designers, should be ready for more informed clients who now have a deeper understanding of their personal style and what works and what does not for them. They will no longer be impressed by pretty pictures but by your ability to create more meaningful spaces and places.
How do you combine functionality and style?
As the old proverbial saying goes “Form follows function”. I think in this instance it is style that follows function. Having the ability to combine good ergonomics with style is a great asset in a designer. Although tricky this is driven by function, how will a specific piece be used in the home and how does it fit into the overall decor style and most importantly budget. A typical and easy example would be a sofa. When looking at a sofa you firstly consider the functional aspects that is; size, seat, height, depth and comfort. Then the next layer you look at is style, does your client for example need a sofa with modern clean lines, or mid-century, or pop-art design. These basic principles can be carried across to other pieces, lighting, side tables etc. Lastly if there is opportunity and budget to customize, I always encourage that because in most cases a personal touch is the best style.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
My inspiration comes from different sources but mostly interiors that resonate with me is the African aesthetic with a contemporary and modern twist. I look at shapes and symbols to pull in and the use of modern patterns. I never let the brief limit my design capabilities as the desire is to create something different every time.
What are you working on at the moment?
Currently I’m doing a self-study of modern African aesthetic for a potential game reserve project in Kwa-Zulu Natal. I am investigating how do we expand the African story by creating meaningful interiors that symbolise our aesthetic as people of colour.
What is your favourite project to date and why?
I don’t think I have ever really had one specific favourite project one as I enjoy different things about all projects. I think what excites me the most right now is this self-study project for the game reserve. I think it’s exciting because of what I intend to achieve from it, a real deep exploration for a unique aesthetic that tells stories from seating to sleeping. This is exciting because of the nature of space, a holiday destination.
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Terms and Conditions
Entries open on 1 April 2021 and close end of day 30 April 2021. The winner will be announced on HOMEMAKERS’ social media platforms during the first week of May 2021. The competition is open to South African citizens over the age of 18. Employees of HOMEMAKERS are not allowed to enter. HOMEMAKERS’ decision is final, and no correspondence will be entered into. A representative from UMONGO will reach out to the winner before the end of May 2021. This consultation may be virtual due to COVID-19 restrictions.