First published on in August 2012

It’s the magical musky smell of leather that first hits you when you walk into the Dark Horse store and studio on Kloof Nek Road. And although the scent continues to linger, your other senses are quickly aroused too.

Sight in particular; there’s so much to see, and it’s not just the furniture, fashion and decor pieces on sale. The owners and product designers, Lise du Plessis and Jarred Nelson, have created a space that really shows off their handiwork. Concocting clever texture and colour contradictions between the actual space and the items on sale, the products scream “Buy me!” and the walls and resident ginger cat Biscuit invite you to move in.

Unusual choices, like a wall covered in recycled tyres, pay items like the newly designed powder coated steel vases their due. Dark navy blue walls allow the bright threads in the strap cushions to pop, while another wall in the store made from leftover wood chips and logs, further enhances the cozy interior. The authenticity of the apparel on sale in the store is manifested in the studio by the sound of singing sewing machines hidden behind curtains, while mounds of leather and canvas all speak of new designs which are soon to grace the walls and shelves of the store.

We sat down with Lise and Jarred, a trained interior designer and architect respectively, to find out more about their designs and the space that houses them.

How long have you been in business?

We started Dark Horse when we moved back to Cape Town from England last year. We needed furniture for our apartment but couldn’t find anything that we liked within our price range. We started making furniture and apparel pieces in our apartment until we moved into this space in May last year.

Did you design the space yourself?

Yes, everything was designed and created by us.

Was the shop’s interior inspired by anything in particular?

The space was inspired by the products we design and sell. We wanted to keep it quite dark and neutral so that it would contrast with the brightness of some of our designs.

In your opinion, what are the key design considerations for a shop space or studio?

It has to be inviting. The atmosphere is key (and so is the coffee). Customers need to interact with the space and feel at home. We have customers who have become part of the Dark Horse family and I think the space we have created has a lot to do with that.

And for a home space?

A home has to have personality but also be functional. We like to keep things open in our home, exposing things in the cupboard, ‘showing off’ what we have.

Where did you source the decor and furniture items in your shop/space?

We laid everything in the shop ourselves, we repurposed a lot of things like the tyre and timber and then did all the sanding and staining ourselves… ja we remember those days well.

How does this environment encapsulate or enhance the wares you sell?

The space and products work together to create a homely feeling rather than a retail shop. The studio in the back also allows people to see how our products are made, they can see the process, which helps them understand just how local Dark Horse furniture and apparel really is. For us design is something that is considered, and the functionality of the space shows that off.

And lastly, what do you think Cape Town’s title of World Design Capital 2014 will bring to the city?

We’re hoping it will create greater public awareness about design and help create a shared understanding of what design is. It’ll really shine a light on Cape Town, exposing local design to people overseas.

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REAL SPACES: Tamboers Winkel


First published on in August 2012

A contemporary country kitchen has recently opened its doors off the top of Kloof Street. You’ve probably heard the buzz about the food but we think Tamboers Winkel’s interior needs a bit of a commotion too.

Above the front door, a sign in gold reads: “Johannes Theobalt Halting van Niekerk: Local purveyor of quality goods”, and on entrance the screed flooring, floor-to-ceiling wooden shelving, and warm exposed lighting makes you realise the quality is not just focused on the food but on every little detail between the walls of the cozy restaurant and deli.

A turquoise wall at the back of the exposed kitchen cheekily contradicts the snug atmosphere the abundance of wood creates in the rest of the shop. But the wood is not all there is to look at. Vintage ornaments and pots of indigenous flowers add to the homely feeling, as does a classic display cabinet filled with ceramic table wear. The kitchen’s handiwork is displayed beautifully on the wall of wooden shelving, which makes shopping from the central table while you enjoy your meal a cinch.

Look up and a truly beautiful lighting arrangement of brass hoops and hanging light bulbs adds a slice of glamour, though not enough to make Tamboers Winkel seem pretentious. Owner Theo van Niekek has struck the balance between decadence and homeliness perfectly, making his store an everyday pleasure.

We chatted to Theo to find out more about his restaurant and deli.

VISI: How long have you been in business?

Theo: We opened on the 2nd of June 2012

Was the restaurant’s interior inspired by anything in particular?

I was born in a small Eastern Free State town called Ficksburg. My grandparents had a farm there called ‘Vorentoe’. I spent most of my weekends on the farm and loved their kitchen. I wanted to re-create that warm, friendly and cozy atmosphere.

Did you design the space yourself?

Marcii Goosen and her team helped to create the vision. My good friends Gareth McArthur and Niklaus Lutzeler did the signage and shelving respectively.

In your opinion, what are the key design considerations for a shop space?

I’m no designer but I think that colour is the first thing that you experience when you walk into any space. It needs to be inviting. That is what I aimed for whilst opening Tamboers Winkel; the food is fresh, free range, organic home cooked meals, and therefore the decor had to be inviting.

And lastly, what do you think Cape Town’s title of World Design Capital 2014 will bring to the city?

I feel absolutely blessed being born in South Africa; it is a beautiful country with tremendous talent. Cape Town World design capital will showcase that talent. 

You can find Tamboers Winkel at 3 De Lorentz Street, Gardens

Andrew Dominic


Furniture maker Andrew Dominic admits that he’s a man of few words. But, in his industry, being a chatterbox is hardly necessary – especially when your furniture speaks volumes for you.

Andrew Dominic turns temperate hard wood into classic and functional pieces of art. His sleek, simple and expertly crafted pieces caught our attention at the recent Design Indaba Expo, where his furniture was exhibited as part of the Salon Privé arena at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC).

The skilled furniture maker has always had “a thing for wood”. Growing up in South West England, in a small coastal town near Plymouth, Andrew spent many of his younger days working on and with boats. “My appreciation for wood really grew from this. But to build a boat or yacht, you need at least five years of nautical engineering behind you. Furniture is much simpler.”

The craft is perhaps simpler, but Andrew doesn’t cut corners when it comes to producing high-quality furniture. “I like doing things well. I’m a perfectionist, so coming close to perfection – even if I’ll never get there 100% – is what I aim for.”

Moving permanently to South Africa about two years ago, gave Andrew the opportunity to open his own workshop in Observatory. And while he hopes, through new commissions and the eventual designing of his own range, that he’ll become a more confident designer, he’ll always consider himself a craftsman first.

Andrew hopes that orders for his products will grow, but he never wants to reach a huge, factory-like scale of production. Another no-no for the furniture maker is plywood. “It bores me. I know it’s sustainable, but to me it looks like a prototype. If I filled my house with plywood furniture, I would feel like a disposable human being who won’t be here for very long.”


While plywood might be out of the question, Andrew does take measures to ensure sustainability.

Every time a customer commissions a piece of furniture, a tree is planted. Through the community-focused initiative Greenpop, Andrew has donated trees that have been planted all over Cape Town, according to his clients’ wishes.

He also donates all the sawdust to stable yards, and off-cuts are used as firewood.

But Andrew’s well-priced furniture is also sustainable in a less obvious way: “I feel furniture is something that will be in your life for many years, and I hope my work will be considered as treasures that are passed down.”

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Primary concerns


First published on in 2011

What do you get when you cross the work of Piet Mondrian with Scandinavian simplicity and a proudly South African approach? James B. Hannah’s contemporary mild-steel sculptures and furniture pieces.

To separate his art from his furniture is tricky, as James approaches each piece, whether a chair or a decorative mobile, with the same design ethos. Masculine and minimalistic lines in mild steel are worked together to create contemporary pieces that almost always feature bright primary colours. Saturated red, blue and yellow – as seen in Mondrian’s Neo-Plasticism work – are especially prominent.

“I try to move away from the primary colours sometimes, but I just can’t. I can’t even imagine most of my pieces in any other colours. I guess I don’t use anything else except the odd bit of grey,” James says.

Relatively new to the design game, James left a Johannesburg-based career in film for furniture and sculpture design after being introduced to mild steel by a friend. After a move to Cape Town in 2008, he hasn’t looked back. “I have been into laser-cutting for years, but then I learnt the steel trade and started creating my own furniture pieces too.”

Some of his laser-cut 2D sculptures, which he’s been making since the mid-90s, are still available in limited editions. Commissioned artworks, like a large, red steel yacht for a private client, also keep him busy in his spare time.

Functional art

A devotee to steel, James is bending and welding his chosen materials into pieces that are catching the attention of local and international interior decorators and private customers. With the help of Dady Ntambwe Mikobi and Roberto Sauls, and inspiration from a Mondrian print that hangs on his workshop wall, sparks fly and functional art is created.

James pays homage to his inspirations through the names of his steel collections. His Mondrianish table range makes obvious reference to the Dutch artist, while the Scandinavianish range features bar stools, chairs and tables inspired by Nordic design.

The designer says Scandinavian aesthetics have always appealed to him. In fact, the desk in his Woodstock workshop is a vintage Scandinavian dresser that was transformed by adding a larger tabletop.

Trawling second-hand markets gave James the idea for his Braai table and chair range. Like most South Africans, James remembers the outdoor furniture from his childhood. “They were popping up at all the markets and I noticed how some had better proportions than others, and how some were completely out.”

After spotting the mesh-type grids commonly used for braais at his steel supplier, James embarked on creating his own version of the furniture. The modern take of the gridded chairs and tables are powder-coated in his signature primary colours, resulting in contemporary outdoor pieces that will look just as good indoors.

James says he has big plans to exhibit both his art and furniture items this year, so keep your eyes on his website for more details.

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