AHEC presents the future of South African Design

Future Heirlooms is a project by AHEC, presented at Always Welcome in Johannesburg (until 30 October 2022) in collaboration with seven South African design studios working in American red oak

Seven pieces of future heirlooms furniture on display in South Africa
(Image credit: AHEC)

The American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) presents Future Heirlooms, a project in collaboration with designer collective Always Welcome, manufacturer and designer Houtlander and timber importer BOS Timbers, highlighting the work of South African designers and exploring the future of sustainable design. 

The result is a collection of seven pieces by Dokter and Misses, MashT Design Studio, TheUrbanative, Kumsuka, Kalki Ceramics, Joe Paine in partnership with Nathan Gates, and Nøde Studio, looking to the future while celebrating each creative’s heritage and South Africa’s design legacy. 

Sustainable potential

Wooden grandfather clock with digital element by AHEC

‘Now Now’ – digital grandfather clock and repository for family information and memorabilia by Joe Paine & Nathan Gates.

(Image credit: AHEC)

As with all of AHEC’s projects, Future Heirlooms is an opportunity to highlight its materials’ sustainable potential. The lumber for the project arrived at the South African port of Durban carbon negative, meaning that there was more CO2 sequestered within the delivered lumber than was released throughout the process of preparing the material. Only just over one cubic metre of wood was used to manufacture all seven pieces, and for their lifetime, they will keep around 1,069 kg of CO2 out of the atmosphere.

‘We need to end our current throwaway culture and we need to use materials that have a low environmental impact,’ says AHEC regional director Roderick Wiles. ‘These issues should affect all our day-to-day decision-making. Designers, especially, have a huge influence on how products are planned and with what materials.’

Future Heirlooms by AHEC

Black wooden table by AHEC

‘Meterage: The Act of Measuring’ by MashT Design Studio (Thabisa Mjo), made of hand-carved American red oak, with ebony slow stain.

(Image credit: AHEC)

The pieces, which will be on display at the Always Welcome viewing rooms in Johannesburg (until 30 October 2022), include a digital grandfather clock by Joe Paine & Nathan Gates, a screen by Nøde Studio merging technology and craft, and a furniture piece by Kalki Ceramics, referencing the aesthetic of the South African tree snake.

Some of the works in the project create a connection with local traditions and objects, such as that of Siyanda Mazibuko (a graduate of Discovered, the 2021 collaboration between Wallpaper* and AHEC) who created the ‘Ukhamba Table’, whose forms are informed by Zulu Ukhamba drinking vessels, traditionally shared between friends and family at Zulu gatherings. Similarly, a table by Thabisa Mjo’s MashT is inspired by traditional Xhosa garments, while a chair by Mpho Vackier features charred timber and references braided hairstyles typical of the Fulani people of West Africa.

Cabinet by Dokter and Misses

‘Family Portrait’ by Dokter and Misses (Adriaan Hugo and Katy Taplin)

(Image credit: AHEC)

Some of the pieces offer an intimate view of the designers’ lives, such as Dokter and Misses’ ‘Family Portrait’, a cabinet inspired by their new family life after welcoming a child, featuring hand-painted patterns and a section for each family member. 

‘This project was the perfect platform for us to work with accomplished South African designers and makers, whilst also helping them to work with an abundant, versatile and beautiful, yet lesser-known American hardwood species,’ continues Wiles. 

Cabinet made of wood and ceramic

‘The Boomslang’ by Kalki Ceramics (Nindya Bucktowar and Nikhil Tricam), made of American red oak with hand-fired ceramic tiles.

(Image credit: AHEC)

In 2023, all seven pieces will move to Always Welcome Heritage House in Cape Town. ‘We hope that this project inspires important discussions around sustainability in South African furniture design,’ says Garreth van Niekerk, director and co-founder of the Always Welcome collective. ‘And that the personal narratives of each designer imbued in each piece bring joy and delight to visitors of the show during its run.’

Chair made of charred wood by AHEC

‘Fulani Chair’ by The Urbanative (Mpho Vackier}, made of charred American red oak

(Image credit: AHEC)

Black carved table by AHEC

‘Ukhamba Table’ by Kumsuka (Siyanda Mazibuko), made of charred American red oak, with ebony slow stain

(Image credit: AHEC)


Future Heirlooms is on view until 30 October 2022


17 Commerce Crescent
Kramerville, Sandton
South Africa


Rosa Bertoli was born in Udine, Italy, and now lives in London. Since 2014, she has been the Design Editor of Wallpaper*, where she oversees design content for the print and online editions, as well as special editorial projects. Through her role at Wallpaper*, she has written extensively about all areas of design. Rosa has been speaker and moderator for various design talks and conferences including London Craft Week, Maison & Objet, The Italian Cultural Institute (London), Clippings, Zaha Hadid Design, Kartell and Frieze Art Fair. Rosa has been on judging panels for the Chart Architecture Award, the Dutch Design Awards and the DesignGuild Marks. She has written for numerous English and Italian language publications, and worked as a content and communication consultant for fashion and design brands.