Beauty, functionality and sustainability

Beauty follows function: in search of a beautiful, functional and sustainable soap dish

Ever since I started my “plastic free” journey, I’ve been buying bars of soap instead of liquid lotions. With this ensued my search for functional soap dishes – a seemingly endless undertaking since I could not find one that did not end in a premature demise of mushy soap. My search finally ended when I came across the beautiful soap dishes by OBA studios. A beautiful object that moves beyond the realm of pure aesthetics, thanks to the addition of two paramount elements; function and sustainability.

I met up with the creators of OBA studios to share stories of entrepreneurship, design and creativity. In their sunny kitchen, sitting down under the giant leaves of a beautiful Monstera deliciosa, founders Birgit Ostermeier and Dr. Barbara Jenner told me about their endeavours to make every day objects better and to do it in a way that is good for people as well as the planet.

Tell us a little about OBA Studio. How dit it all start?

Barbara: “It all started in Famalicao, a very small village in Portugal, where we spent a summer together. In the middle of nowhere we decided to start a business together. Our vision wasn’t completely clear at the beginning but we wanted to sell everyday objects that are simply better in terms of function, aesthetics and sustainability. However at that point we didn’t have a clue how to do that.”

Where did the idea for your soap dish originate from and what was your process in going from concept to final product?

Barbara: “At that time I was working a lot with ceramics. I love soaps but had to see them drowning and finally dissolving in their own liquid almost every two weeks. At one point I got tired of watching that misery in my bathroom and tried to come up with something better. The first shape was a very simple zig zag shape, but surprisingly it seemed to work! After firing (in the kiln) I took a photo and send it to Birgit – it wasn’t the perfect shape at the beginning, but it was already working so much better then what I had before. We decided to make it our first product, and started testing and improving it. Six months later we had our first product online.”

How long did it take to bring your product to the market and what were your biggest obstacles?

Barbara: “We decided to start a business during the summer of 2017, but we really started making plans end of 2017 and officially became a GbR in June 2018. From the first idea to the ready to sell product online it took almost a year.”

What I love about the soap dish is that it solves two problems. It’s not only beautiful but effectively keeps your soap from becoming soggy. How do you marry aesthetics with functionality?

Barbara: “We are both very critical observers. And we challenged ourselves to make the very best.”

Birgit: “Both coming from the art scene and having a trained eye for form and beauty is a great help. It is also neccessary to be much better than what is already out there. You find more than 10.000 different soap dishes that are sold online. We fortunately managed to add value not only in design and functionality, but also in regards to a fair and regional production.”

Building a business has its challenges and even though it’s highly rewarding, it’s not always easy. How do you stay positive and motivated?

Barbara: “One thing is probably just to trust that it will work. It’s something you own, even if it doesn’t work out, it’s a mistake you made for yourself and not for others.”

Birgit: “We manage to laugh a lot with each other and that helps me a lot to keep going. But also the success we already have online. We have a good culture of discussion which helped us to develop a company we both love and to keep going step by step.”

“It is something you own, even if it doesn’t work out, it’s a mistake you made for yourself and not for others.”

Going from concept to final product or actioning on an idea and bringing it to life is really tough. What advice can you give someone that has an idea – but isn’t sure where to start in making it a reality?

Barbara: “One huge thing is research, or to simply look at the market and find out if there is already something similar out there. If there is, then it’s interesting to find out why it works or why it doesn’t. For our soap dish we’ve asked a lot of friends to test it and give us feedback, which was very helpful.”

The future of our planet is a hot topic right now and rightfully so. What do you think businesses can do to take positive steps at curbing climate change?

Barbara: “Most of all I think its important to be aware of this topic and to try to find better solutions. For small businesses like ours it’s not easy but we try to keep questioning production processes. Our decision to produce in Germany was based on exactly this topic.”

Birgit: “There are also a lot of aware customers out there, who we take very seriously. The results of the European selection show that a majority cares to prevent climate change. I believe that businesses should take this result very seriously and be motivated to go in the right direction. You can not transform a company into a climate friendly business in one day, but to set yourself the aim to, for example, produce CO2 neutral in 10 years will lead to different management decisions.”

As a company with a sustainability mindset – what would you say are the toughest obstacles to combat. Any ideas on how one can tackle or solve it?

Barbara: “Right now we are struggling with the packaging. It is very thin and doesn’t provide enough protection for shipping. Most of the refunds are shipping damages. Right now we have a bubble plastic cover on top of our cardboard packaging, which isn’t ideal, but we already found a solution and our workshop is on it!”

Birgit: “I think it is important to see the sustainability of a product as an ongoing process. At the moment we can be proud of what we reached in regards of producing with a socially engaged company in Brandenburg and that our product makes soap more durable than common soap dishes. After the packaging we will take a closer look at yet unsolved questions like recycling or things like environmentally friendly stickers.”

What would you say are the characteristics of a good team or business partner and what do you think are important things to consider when choosing an accomplice?

Barbara: “I think it’s good if you can find different skills and interests in a team, and then of course a huge shared interest in the same topic. One of the most important things is trust though, and I’m extremely lucky to have found such an amazing business partner.”

Birgit: “So am I! Besides trust I see humor, persistence and understanding each others needs as important prerequisites for a good business partnership.”

What are your future plans for OBA Studios? Which products can we look forward to seeing?

Barbara: “Currently we are working on different materials for the soap dish such as porcelain, terrazzo and wood. We’ve also started working on other products, one of them is an atmospheric wall light and the other one a self watering planter for all the plant lovers out there who aren’t blessed with a green thumb or simply want to go on vacation without worrying about their plants too much.”

Finally, name 5 of your favourite spots in Berlin for:

Breakfast or coffee: Barbara: “Kaffeebar, Tischendorf or Latodolce.” Birgit: “Kaffee Mitte, Café Krone.”
Spending a hot summers day: Barbara – “At a lake or in Italy.” Birgit – “Favourite Lakes are Liepnitzsee or Schlachtensee.”
Spending a cold winters day: Barbara – “At home or in the sauna.” Birgit – “My perfect choice is the Vabali Berlin.”
Finding inspiration: Barbara – “On instagram and pinterest, books, magazines and museums.” Birgit – “By walking in nature and in restaurants and hotels that are managed with love and perfection.”
A night out with friends: Barbara – “Ideally dancing, but mostly we just end up in a bar” Birgit – “Art openings, fancy restaurants and R&B dancing.”

The soap dishes are produced in Brandenberg, Germany. You can find more details about their products on the OBA studio’s website or buy them through their amazon store. Don’t forget to follow them on instagram to see what they are up to next!

Text & images © Barbara Cilliers

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At home with South African Artist, Jenny Parsons

At home with South African Artist, Jenny Parsons

It’s early December, the Swartland a golden yellow in its post-harvest glory. I’ve come to visit my sister Almarie (about whom you’ll get to learn loads more later) at her new home in the Riebeek valley. Together we’re on our way to visit Jenny Parsons – a South African artist and urban landscape painter. Almarie met Jenny at Solo Studios earlier this year, and implored me to visit her at her beautiful home-based studio in Riebeek Wes.

Jenny shares her home with her partner Mark, their two lovely dogs and a charming grey tabby. Mark and Jenny have done a remarkable job of renovating the 1860s “Nagmaalshuis” into the spectacular residence that it is today. The first floor, which houses the living quarters, used to be a dark labyrinth of rooms leading from one into the next. But the space has been opened up entirely, allowing ample light to flow into the house. Upstairs, the thatch roof has been replaced by a bright and airy studio where Jenny now spends most of her days painting.

The couple’s home is a welcoming space filled with colour and light. Before jumping into our interview though, Almarie and I first wander from room to room, guessing artists’ names, as we admire the multifarious pieces of art adorning the walls.

Entranceway to the colour filled home, of South African artist Jenny Parsons
The bright and colourful living room of South Artist, Jenny Parsons

Have you always been a landscape painter? What inspired you to pursue this subject?

“I’ve played with quite a few different subjects, but I always return to landscape. The relationship of my body to the physical world is why I keep painting landscapes – I want to share my experience of light, space, colour and shape.”

Colourful living room of South Artist, Jenny Parsons

Colourful living room of South Artist, Jenny Parsons
Colourful living room of South Artist, Jenny Parsons

You mentioned Richard Diebenkorn’s art as an inspiration. What is it about his work that inspires you?

“Diebenkorn’s approach to landscape is incredibly nuanced. His paintings seem to fit together with the perfect balance of abstraction and representation. His sure hand and direct brushwork also inspire me – he avoids ‘pretty’ in the most remarkable way. I take great inspiration from his ten rules for painting.

Artwork by South African artist Conrad Botes

Living room with colourful artwork
Cat on a purple sofa

Interview with South Artist, Jenny Parsons

How would you describe life as an artist in South Africa? What in your experience are the biggest obstacles and rewards?

“South African art is at a very exciting stage and the industry has grown over the last ten years. We now have art institutions like Zeitz Mocaa and the Norval Institute, as well as numerous art fairs. So there are more and more opportunities for South African Artists. Obstacles and rewards can be self generated – my philosophy is “keep the faith and keep making’.”

Green couch with a black floral pillow and colourful art

Painting of swimmers
A brown dog on a red oriental carpet

Do you have a favourite piece of artwork? Tell us the story behind it.

“My favourite work is a painting of swimmers by South African artist Clare Menck. When I was in the process to moving to Riebeeck, she lived in my house in Cape Town for a few months while she played a singing role in a musical. So we swapped accommodation for a painting.”

Colourful bedroom with a mix of bold patterns and graphic, illustrative fabrics
Colourful bedroom with a mix of bold patterns and graphic, illustrative fabrics

As a landscape artist – your work must be largely influenced by your immediate surroundings. How has it changed since the move. Do you see a big difference in your style from when you lived in Cape Town, versus the Swartland valley?

“Yes, there has definitely been a shift. I tend to paint the landscape of my immediate environment, so I’m currently working on the vast wheat fields and mountainscapes of the Swartland. At the moment I’m fascinated with edges and how the different crops describe the lie of the land.”

Pink and green bedroom with a mix of bold patterns and graphic, illustrative fabrics

Pink and green bedroom with a mix of bold patterns and graphic, illustrative fabrics
Pink and green bedroom with green art on the walls

Mark mentioned that you’ve lived here for four years. How did you find the house? What inspired you to move to the countryside?

“Well, it wasn’t just a simple move! Mark sold his business and decided to take some time out and move to the country. I was less than keen and felt very resistant to moving away from my studio and community. So he chose a town that was close enough for us to be able to spend weekends together either in the city or the country. We went house hunting together and when we saw this house and garden, we both fell in love. On weekends here I found that I never wanted to leave! I lasted eight months in the city before I moved here for good. The whole event was really good for our relationship too, giving us space and autonomy to make our own decisions.”

Pink bedroom with antique dresser and bold patterns and colours

Pink bedroom with antique dresser and bold patterns and colours
Pink bedroom with antique dresser and bold patterns and colours

How do you and Mark manage your combined styles in the decor of the house? Do each of you have an aesthetic you follow or emulate?

“Regarding decor, Mark and I have always had the philosophy, that if we really like something, it will fit in. And over thirty years of homemaking together, this has proven to be true. Ours is an eclectic mix – Mark loves a mid century modern aesthetic, and he has an eye for quirky detail. I’m a fan of the comforting effect of soft furnishings. We both collect art and have our own distinct taste, yet somehow it all hangs together.”

Kitchen that opens onto a veranda, with bright blue elements mixed with bold patterns and wood textures

A blue vintage cabinet styled with colourful trinkets and South African paraphernalia
A colourful and brightly patterned couch

You have such a wonderful art collection – Mark told us plenty of it was exchanges he did with artist in turn for a website. Do you have a similar stories of exchange?

“Yes, most of the art that I own has been acquired from fellow artists, usually by exchange.”

The colourful kitchen of South Artist, Jenny Parsons

Do you at times – if ever – suffer from the so called “fear of the white canvas” or a period where creative inspiration is low? If so – how do you get yourself out of that?

“Yes, definitely. I have suffered from artists block to varying degrees. When it’s bad it can be very frightening. I have developed many strategies to remedy the block, some of which are: Writing morning pages, going outdoors to draw or paint, going sketching with a friend, listening to a podcast while painting intuitively, doing pranayama breathing before starting to work, tidying the studio. Essentially, one has to drop the idea of a desired outcome and just show up at the easel.”

South Artist, Jenny Parsons in her studio in Riebeek Kasteel

Studio space of South Artist, Jenny Parsons
Studio space of South Artist, Jenny Parsons

Have you ever done a piece that you have a deep connection to and as a result have found it hard to let go or to sell?

“I love it when my work finds the right home, so I seldom keep paintings. The paintings of mine that we have in our home are owned by Mark. Sometimes, if I make a breakthrough in a painting, I keep it for a while to learn from it.”

Some of South Artist, Jenny Parsons' work

Do you have any words of advice for someone who’d like to pursue their own creative endeavour?

“Keep the faith and keep making. No one can do it the way that you do, so be inspired by other artists, but don’t copy. Be prepared to work hard, at both your creative output and building your business.”

Riebeek studio of South Artist, Jenny Parsons
South Artist, Jenny Parsons in her studio

Tell us about your latest exhibition – where can we see it?

“I’ve just finished an exhibition at RK Contemporary in Riebeek Kasteel. There are some pieces still in the gallery.”

Do you have any future exhibitions coming up or happenings you’d like to share with us?

“My next showing of work will be at my studio during the Solo Studios event in the Riebeek Valley in August, 2019.”

Studio space of South Artist, Jenny Parsons

Studio space of South Artist, Jenny Parsons
Studio space of South Artist, Jenny Parsons

Name your favourite spots in the Western Cape for:

Breakfast or coffee: “Beans About Coffee, Riebeek Kasteel.”
Spending a hot summers day: “Under the umbrella next to my pool.”
Spending a cold winters day: “Fireside with a good book or my crochet.”
Finding inspiration: “Books on other painters.”
A night out with friends: “Thursday nights at Harrington’s Cocktail Lounge for music and dancing.”

If you’d like to see more of Jenny’s work, you can visit her online gallery at jennyparsons.com. She also has a beautiful collection of archival prints available for purchase on jennyparsonsprint.com.

Text & images © Barbara Cilliers

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Maggie Coker Botanical Stylist & Creativity Mentor

Interview with Maggie Coker,
Botanical Stylist & Creativity Mentor

Walking into botanical stylist and creativity mentor Maggie Coker’s Berlin apartment, is like walking into a candy store. Filled with visual treats, her home delights you with corners of beautifully arranged objects and tastefully styled dried flowers. Earlier this year I had the pleasure of visiting her at her home-studio in Neukölln. The vibrant bohemian space is filled with Maggie’s cool and calm charisma and underpinned by a creative energy that permeates the space. I could spend hours there, chatting about life and all it’s turns and tales. Here is some of what I learnt about the undeniably colourful miss Coker and her latest creative endeavours.

Studio of Botanical Stylist & Creative Director Maggie Coker

You have such a lovely apartment – how long have you lived here and what brought you to Berlin in the first place?

“I have a had the contract for my flat for 10 years. It was really important for me to find affordable accommodation as I knew I wanted the option of living alone, and to open a shop. Even in 2008 it felt like a daunting task looking for a flat in areas like xberg. As a non-white German not all neighbourhoods felt comfortable to me. Elements of cultural diversity was something I felt was very important to me when choosing my home. Who could have imagined what would become of Berlin today and the nightmare and heartache people are suffering at the hands of greedy real estate agents, and private landlords. It wasn’t easy for me to find a place, I would often call up for a flat or flat-share, get a lovely response on the telephone, then show up and realise they were expecting someone that fitted the British accent, and not someone that looked like me.”

“However, I would swap those times for now. I have not known a time when I have never experienced prejudices or racism, but I have never been in a situation when I have been afraid to lose my home because the landlord decides he wants to now jump on the Berlin real estate hype.”

Studio of Botanical Stylist & Creative Director Maggie Coker

Studio of Botanical Stylist & Creative Director Maggie Coker
Studio of Botanical Stylist & Creative Director Maggie Coker

Your studio is an absolute oasis – what inspired you to work with plants and how did you get into flower styling?

“I think the decision was somehow already made for me. I’ve always worked with plants and flowers. It has always been a huge part of my emotional and physical health. Flowers make me happy so I kept them around. Botany was something I always trusted and been curious about, so I worked for companies that celebrated the medical healing benefits of plants and flowers.”

“Personally I continued to use flowers and plant based medicine when needed, but I segued into vintage clothes and opened a vintage shop and became connected with the Neukölln small business community around me. I founded the Neukölln Schatzkarte in 2013, a marketing tool to help increase business for small local businesses, and highlight the people behind them. I came to realise again that I was suited to work more directly with helping people, people felt very comfortable opening up to me in the shop with all their business problems, their stresses and depressions during hard times.”

“By 2015 my passion for flowers crept back in, and I turned Rag And Bone Man into a concept store, vintage clothes, flowers, café, textiles and crafts. As time moved on I cared less about vintage fashion and more about space surrounding it – the feeling it gave people. The flower concept Poems & Posies took a life of it’s own, we started to get big requests from the likes of brands like H&M home, Adidas, and even worked for Will I am…”

Studio of Botanical Stylist & Creative Director Maggie Coker

Studio of Botanical Stylist & Creative Director Maggie Coker
Studio of Botanical Stylist & Creative Director Maggie Coker

Is there a particular reason why you decided to work with dried flowers?

“Working with dried flowers as well as fresh was for the same reason as working with vintage clothes; the respect for sustainability, and the beauty of old ageing things, texture and value. I really feel blessed to be able to make money from working with flowers, so I guess it makes me value each flower just a that bit more and I tried to preserve as many as possible and give it an afterlife… to preserve the sentiment somehow.

I love how flowers dry, forming different shapes and creations. They are beautiful and have this really delicate appearance even though they now last much longer. How have people or clients been responding to this?

“Always mixed reactions, some love them, some don’t… But overall very positive and rewarding.”

Where do you get the flowers that you work with?

“I get my flowers locally and from the large flower market in Berlin.”

Studio of Botanical Stylist & Creative Director Maggie Coker

Studio of Botanical Stylist & Creative Director Maggie Coker
Studio of Botanical Stylist & Creative Director Maggie Coker

You’re so creative and have a great eye for colour and design. Do you have any creative training or background in design or the arts?

“I studied Performance Arts for five years. I think set design is something that is always with me. The mood of the room is very important to me and how it inspires or makes others feel. I’m a dreamer and somehow always trying to create my dream space.”

Are there any other flower stylist or creative person that you admire and draw inspiration from?

“There are some I admire for their business direction. I try to look more inwards for creativity. Nowadays I feel there is an over stimulation of creativity. It’s hard to tell what is coming from you, or just images and styles you have scrolled over for the millionth time on Instagram. But it makes me happy seeing so many boss ladies doing their thing. I think the flower business has taken a new direction because of so many awesome women and their innovation. And thank goodness for all the amazing photographers who bring our work to life…”

Maggie Coker Botanical Stylist Creative Director

Maggie Coker Botanical Stylist Creative Director
Maggie Coker Botanical Stylist Creative Director

We chatted once about the beauty of aged flowers, and how we as societies should learn to appreciate age and imperfection more. What other positive change would you like to see realised in the world?

“Things I would love to see change in the future is more diversity in access to business funding for women and in particular women of colour and marginalized groups. Thankfully one of the good things about social media is that people who normally was not given mainstream exposure can create their own following, and form their own narratives, and set up incredible business concepts. You can also find things that are relatable and represent your concerns and outlook in life in a true likeness. But as much as I appreciate the opportunities that social media offer, I would rather spend more time in real life connecting with people, and I feel the cracks of overuse of social media is begining to take its toll on people.”

“For example last year summer we hosted a Creative Flower Talk Salon, and the topic was, Social Media Perception vs Reality, how this impacts our self esteem and mental health. A couple of attendees shared with us that social media made them feel lonely, envious of others success, and was quite overwhelmed by all the glossed over happiness online, that they did not feel in their own personal lives at the moment.”

“At the end of the session we used rose as the flower language for the session. All flowers have a language, but roses hold a special place in our hearts. They actaully open your heart chakra for expression and love. With rose petals we gave all the attendees a moment to listen to their souls as a flower by allowing it to blossom and be seen, heard and understood. They each went away with a memory pouch filled with rose petals as a reminder of the healing circle we formed together, and a place where they were Seen, Heard and Understood! We need more spaces where people can open up about their mental health issues without fear judgement or stigma.”

Maggie Coker Botanical Stylist Creative Director

Maggie Coker Botanical Stylist Creative Director

Tell me a little about your new endeavour, Greenhouse Mentality, how did it all come about?

“The Greenhouse Mentality – a joint venture with creative director Florian Wenzel – uses plants and flowers as a muse to open up conversations about mental health and emotional well-being in the workplace and amongst the freelance, creative community. We curate stress relief and flower therapy workshops for companies, as well as hosting Creative Flower Talks Salons, and podcast series with special guests and community leaders sharing their mental health journeys, hopefully breaking down stigmas and encouraging others to speak up! We want to train at least one person in each company that we work with to be a mental health first aider.”

“Over the 7 years I managed my own concept store, it occurred to me that the workplace is where we spend most of our adult lives. Sadly, it is also the place where, in my experience, mental well-being is the most neglected and stigmatized. We worry about fitting in, fulfilling company expectations, maintaining consistent levels of performance and creativity, generating more business and paying our bills. We are often made to feel that high stress levels, and overly demanding positions, go hand in hand with success. Being bored on the job, a common cause of mild depression and anxiety, is often brushed off as a “luxury” problem or employees are too scared to mention it.”

“If we have visible injuries or illnesses like a broken a leg, or even the flu, companies and co-workers are more understanding and even offer sympathy. However, this is sadly not the case for mental health issues, which are not as easy to see or understand as there are no visible symptoms. Evidence shows the earlier we identify a mental health issue, such as stress, anxiety or depression, the more manageable and easier it is to treat.”

“We can dramatically improve the mental well-being of the start-up and creative community in Berlin by making talking about mental health commonplace at work. This is done through training team members and co-workers on how to address mental health issues at work and create an open and safe environment to talk without judgement. The Greenhouse Mentality uses the beauty and magic of flowers to connect with companies and their co-workers. Our aim is to sign up as many companies as possible to take part in our Mental Health First Aider training programs. Our mission is to make talking about mental health as common place as talking about a common cold and to curate nurturing spaces that inspire healing and learning.”

“In 2019 I hope we can attract more funding and partners that also see the importance of improved mental health awareness in the startup and business communities of Berlin.”

Maggie Coker Home Studio

Maggie Coker Home Studio
Maggie Coker Home Studio

Are there any events coming up that you’d like us to know about?

I have two events coming up, one is a cozy walk in nature called Gratitude Walk For Women’s Mental Health on February 3rd at 2pm. You can find more details about it here. And the other event is on February 9th, called Greenhouse Mentality – Botanical Self-Care. More details about it here.

Name your favourite spots in Berlin for:

Breakfast or coffee:
“For coffee my favs are Companion Coffee, Two and Two, and Populas. I don’t have a favourite breakfast spot at the moment.”

Spending a summer’s or winter’s day:
“My summer and winter days vary, depending on my mood and the temperature! We are so blessed to have so many green areas with canals and lakes in Berlin, an abundance of cafés and cultural events happening each and every week. But I love eating out with friends, it’s still something that is affordable in this city.”

Finding inspiration:
“I draw inspiration from everyday life, going for walks in nature, reading articles, photography, visiting public places, in my dreams, spending time with friends and of course from time to time on the internet.”

A night out with friends:
“I enjoy going to Rosa Caleta Jamaican reasurant, beautiful warm hearted people and great service. I also love to go the Nigerian restuarant Ebe Ano. I’m a dinner person, more than bar and drinks.”

Maggie has a beautiful instagram account called ragandbonemanvintage. Be sure to check it out! To stay up to date with events and happenings at Greenhouse Mentality, be sure to follow them as well!

Text & images © Barbara Cilliers

Psssst. Remeber to follow us on instagram to stay up to date with the latest stories and features! 🙂

Interview with Photographer Garick van Staden

Home visit with Garick, Lisa, Jude & Lily

It’s a sunny afternoon in Pretoria. Two Hadedas lazily poke at the lawn, slurping earthworms as I make my way through the gate. I’m at the home of Garick and Lisa, the photography duo behind Emotive Art photographers. Lily with her bright eyes and colourful headband smiles gingerly from her mother’s arms as the couple welcome me into their colourful home. Their little boy Jude, full of stories and questions, excitedly steers me towards the patio table, where a smorgasbord of tapas awaits – a feast before our interview ensues.


How did you become a professional photographer? What was the inspiration and driving force behind pursuing a career in photography?

“It started when I moved to Stellenbosch in 1998. I was somehow fascinated with taking abstract photos of anything I could find because I moved in creative circles. Not knowing or being serious about it I kind of put it second as I had to survive to pay my rent working as a waiter at a wine farm during the day and a barman/waiter by night and some weekends doing castings in Cape town for overseas tv commercials on some other odd occasion.”

“I partied hard and never thought of following photography as a career. Until I decided that I need to make more money and moved to London where things got pretty real pretty fast. With no degree behind my name I worked as a blue collar worker and with that famous London weather I got depressed as an artist and needed something to release my state of depression. I remembered my camera and started getting into it again.”

“After 18months of working almost 12 hours a day and every second weekend taking photos in between my travels, I finally decided to return to South Africa. Still struggling to survive I made the big leap to pursue photography. The inspiration came later as I discovered my passion for people and how I work and communicate with people I don’t know.”

“My first paying gig was a wedding by the coast of Cape Agalas (most southern tip of Africa). What inspires me about people is their ability to tell stories and then when I look at the images of those people I get a deeper glimpse of their pain and joy. It stirs my emotions in so many directions that it charges me to capture more.”

At what point did you realise or start to feel that working as a photographer was worth pursuing and that it could be a viable business?

“The moment when I was invited to move to Pretoria to be mentored by another photographer because of the potential they saw in my work. It was the gate/opportunity to my future as photographer. Somehow I knew I had to make the sacrifice to leave the beautiful Cape.”

Was there a point where you almost gave up? Tell us about that – and why you kept going nonetheless.

“There were a few times but my love for what I do has kept my head on my shoulders. Every time I feel like giving up I had to make the decision to look back on how I landed up where I am today. That’s when I stop my groaning be thankful for what is given to me and carry on. Its grace that brought me this far.”

Which story, interaction or series of work are you most proud of or affected you the most?

“Sho! There are so many where do I start. There is the story of the shoe repair guy. His name is JOB.”

“I love to talk and sometimes it can be my downfall – where I fail to listen. I wanted to do a story on Job, who works 6 days of the week to feed a family of 6 kids. I pre-warned him a week before that I will be coming to take photos and hear his story.”

“My approach was non photography at first and a lot of talking. Bombarding the poor man with questions and not giving him the chance to speak. I immediately saw how uncomfortable he was and stopped with the questions, picked up my camera and started taking images.”

“It taught me a lot that day as he prepared a piece of paper beforehand after the photos were taken where he paid for a taxi to get his eldest daughter to translate for me his story he read for me in his mother language. As she translated while he read she got tears in her eyes of how father had suffered many trials telling me how he started as an engineer apprentice loosing his occupation and ended up as a Cobbler. It humbled me tremendously and looking still at the images today reminds me of putting myself second when I photograph souls. It’s not about me, it’s who’s in front me.”

What motivates you in your work and where do you find your inspiration?

“Mostly my own family. When someone phones or emails me to tell us that we have captured them authentically, motivates me and my wife. Having my wife next to me as an artist and photographer is beyond epic! My wife’s ability to write something from nothing and make it sound like I am there inspires me.”

“My children on how they can imagine and play having conversations about small things from their world encourages me to be more creative. As a family we try and do things to keep that creative flame burning. Sometimes we put our favourite tunes on in the kitchen and dance. Other times we paint, play music. It’s important for us to use other creative means to inspire our work and passion for what we do.”

Do you have a mentor? Tell us about him/her. If not, who would you most love to learn from?

“I don’t have a mentor I really follow anymore. People can challenge, humble and teach me so many aspects of creation that I don’t have to look any further than that. If there is a photographer I still want to learn from it would be from Annie Leibowitz. She is a brilliant portrait photographer. What I do admire is her approach to people and the patience she has with them. Creativity cannot be rushed.”

Do you have a photography dream goal? A dream job or scenario that you’d love to shoot? Tell us about that.

“If National Geographic wanted me to cover a story for them of a people group in anyplace of the world that would be grand!”

How would you define your home style or style of your home?

“Mmmh that’s interesting. Most of our pieces are hand me downs and items we picked up at antique or second hand shops. We love to explore places and find gems that we can paint, change and reuse. We have a bit of everything. My wife is mostly the decorator, and she has always been drawn to the Frieda Kahlo/African colours , loved the colours and ways things could be so different but yet all blend in. Our home is quite eclectic. We purchased a place that at the time fitted our budget and so it is a continuous work in progress, there is still many things we would like to do, but it takes time.”

What is your favourite room at home and why?

“Our dinning room table definitely. The house was quite divided with walls and we have broken down the walls downstairs and opened up the space. We love the dining room table. As a family we take a big roll of paper, put it on the dining room table, secure the table with binder clips. We then have a permanent bowl in the middle of the table, with all sorts of colour pencils, markers and crayons in it. While we eat dinner, the kids eat and draw. When friends come visit, we put the phones aside and sit and talk and doodle. The dinning room table is our creative space, our talking space and getting together talking about our day and drawing space. WE LOVE IT!”

What’s your favourite piece (of furniture) at home? Why do you love it so.

“Our art deco chairs. After a long day just sitting you can fall asleep in it or early morning sitting in them drinking coffee and just staring into oblivion. Also the mint green cupboard in the dining room space. It comes all the way from Ladysmith in the Klein Karoo and its a treasured piece that reminds me of my gran and special memories as a child.”

What place do you escape to, a place you like to go to, to recharge or an address that makes you feel good?

“Mmmh, we definitely don’t escape enough. I would have to say Bettys Bay has always been a favourite of my wife and I or the Magoeba’s Kloof forest. When we can’t get there, anywhere near the sea and mountains. The sea is an open space, and you feel like you can just leave your thoughts to float along the coast as you watch the waves. The mountains remind me of how small we are in the world, there is something quite majestic about the mountains, makes me think of the bigness of the Creator…humbling.”

Do you have a philosophy in life, or advice you follow to the T? Let us hear it!

“I am kind philosophical by nature but find myself grounded in reading the Bible. The historical backdrop of then and how things have played out in this day and age fascinates me. Having conversations about topics like “what happens after we die”. Deep stuff I tell you.”

One piece of advice you could give to someone who’d like to be pursue their own dream or business idea:

“Just get up and start! Do! Stop talking and try. Even if you fail at least you started putting thoughts to action.”

What’s your favourite inspirational quote or motto. What does it mean to you?

“Love this quote: ‘The truly wise are humble because they know they have so much to learn.’ – Tim Challies. It keeps me sane in a fallen world. I love true biographies of legends like David Livingston who wrote this: ‘Do not think me mad. It is not to make money that I believe a Christian should live. The noblest thing a man can do, is just humbly to receive, and then go amongst others and give.’ ”

If you could go back in time and meet one famous person, who would you want to meet and why:

“Albert Einstein. He knew something and did not share everything with the world. I want to know what that is. An then take a documentary photo of him.”

What is your favourite destination in or outside of South Africa, and why do you love it?

“Namibia. There is something magical about the dessert and dunes. I have always been drawn to landscapes and Namibia is a true favourite of ours.”

Name 5 of your favourite spots for…

Breakfast or coffee: “On my little porch using my pour over and favourite coffee beans or aroma coffee or vintage coffee.”

Spending a hot summers day: “In the pool…one of my favourite things to do is play ultimate frisbee. I found a frisbee you can play with in the pool, so I enjoy being able to enjoy the sun but in the coolness of the water. A good Gin and tonic too!”

Spending a cold winters day: “In front of a bonfire or fireplace, with guitar tunes and djembe drum beats.”

Finding inspiration: “My wife would say watching theatre, for me chilling with close friends around a bonfire (there is something about fire).”

A night out with friends: “Any place that either makes good sushi or serves craft beer and magnificent coffee afterwards.”

Finally, where can we find your work? Any projects you’re working on that you’d like to share with the readers? We’d love to know.

“I am planning to print some of my private work to help stateless children in our country. We adopted a girl and desperately want to register her but our Department of Home affairs don’t want to because she is abandoned by her mother. Long story short, we found that there are 3.7 m children without homes in South Africa. Some of the money will go to a NGO who deals with helping children to be registered as it is their right to be citizens of a country to have education, healthcare ect. This video explains the issue in detail.”

“You can follow us on Instagram. We have two accounts. One for weddings and the other for our corporates:”

Corporate: The visual motive website or @thevisualmotive

Lifestyle family and weddings: Garick van Staden Emotive Art photographers website & instagram

Belgian Bloggers’ Brussels Apartment

A visit to Matthieu and Bénédicte, the creators of the Belgian design blog Auguste&Claire

My next story on creatives features the young Franco-Belgian couple and authors of the french interior and design blog Auguste&Claire. The creative duo Matthieu and Bénédicte live in the vibrant district of Saint-Gilles. Early spring, I visited them in their beautifully renovated Belgium apartment, to learn more about their blog and about what keeps them occupied in the dynamic city of Brussels.

Brussels through a window

Brussels Apartment

Their home is a beautifully renovated multi-story structure with large windows and high ceilings. Matthieu – an independent architect at pl.rigaux – did a great job at renovating and restoring the space, with careful consideration of the historic character and sensitivity to the original features of the building.

Bénédicte and Matthieu sought items that would compliment the character of their new space. So they started revamping some ikea pieces and vintage or second-hand finds. Soon they moved on to designing and building pieces of their own. Their blog; Auguste&Claire followed as a means to share these creations. Here they could show others how possible it is to make your own quality, personalised furniture & decorative elements, that’s not only cost-effective but durable and timeless. The TARVA dresser hack is one of my favourites. These days the blog also includes their discoveries on design, photography, architecture as well as other daily inspirations.

Brussels Living room

The couple, who met in Barcelona when Bénédicte was doing an internship and Matthieu an Erasmus exchange, makes a fine team. With his architectural understanding of both structure and shape as well as the integrity of raw materials, Matthieu manages to create DIY pieces that transcends your usual DIY feel. Bénédicte, who runs her own marketing & communications consultancy, translates Matthieu’s creations into beautifully styled and easy to follow content for the blog.

As independent business owners I was curious about their approach to doing their own thing and about the obstacles they faced. Apart from the initial administrative barriers, financial security was their foremost concern although both were optimistic and not at all troubled by the notion. Bénédicte pointed to the importance of having a clear vision and sticking to your goal and to make sure that you build up a solid network of support and leads before you go solo.

It’s apparent that these two aren’t ones to follow standard conventions. There’s a saying in Belgium; “de belg heeft een baksteen in de maag”. Meaning, all Belgians have a brick in their stomach. The maxim bears witness to the inexplicable need for every young Belgian to buy a piece of land and build their own house. It’s therefore rather unique for Bénédicte and Matthieu to have settled in the city. But walking down the lively streets of St Saint-Gilles, you get an instant sense of diversity and creativity of the place so it’s with little wonder why the two decided to live here.

I asked Matthieu and Bénédicte what attracted them most about Brussels in general. They unanimously agreed to the city’s cultural diversity. When they’re not out exploring the many vintage and antique markets for forgotten treasures, the cosmopolitain community and it’s rich artistic and creative offerings keep them more than inspired and entertained.

You can read more about the pair and their favourite things to do in the city in the Top Five Tips sections below. This is a new feature to the blog so keep a look out for some cool city tips, advice and inspiration in my future creative domains blog posts. For more DIY, home and design stories, go check out their blog: Auguste&Claire

Top tips from Matthieu and Bénédicte

#1 One piece of advice you could give to someone who’d like to be their own boss:
To envision the life that he/she most want and write down how it would look like. It always helps to clarify our main goals and make them happen!

#2 Your favourite inspirational quote or motto:
Creativity is contagious. Pass it on. (Einstein)

#3 If you could go back in time and meet one famous person, who would you want to meet and why:
We would love to enjoy a coffee with Jacques Brel, Belgian singer and songwriter, and talk about his multiple passions and lifestyle.

#4 What is your ultimate travel destination? One place you’ve been to or would love to go explore?
We’#5 re th5 of bout visiting Japan, probably the nr…t on the list!

Name some of your favourite spots in Brussels for:

Breakfast/coffee: Eating ‘pasteis de nata’ at Forcado Pastelaria

Spending a hot summers day: In the pool of the JAM Hotel

Spending a cold winters day: Early tour at the flea market in Les Marolles and a coffee at PinPon, an old fire station converted into a restaurant

Finding inspiration: Looking at the budgies building strange nests at the Duden Park

A night out with friends: A glass of wine at the evening market in front of Saint-Gilles town hall (every Monday)

Pssst. Remember to follow us on intagram to see the latest posts, features and stories! 🙂

Interview with Carla Erasmus

Carla Erasmus | Cofounder of Bofred Feature Furniture

The air is warm and prickly as we manoeuvre our rented Hyundai up the steep streets of Cape Town’s city centre. Up ahead, the large flat body of Table Mountain towers like a majestic monument. Behind us, the deep blue water of the atlantic glimmers in the sunlight. It’s a bright and sunny day in Southern Africa, and we’re on our way to meet Carla Erasmus, co founder of Bofred; the feature furniture brand based in Cape Town. Carla has warmly agreed to an interview and invited us to her home, where we’re gingerly greeted by her curious, and oh so photogenic dog, Frankie.

Dog on a couch
Homestory with Carla Erasmus, owner of Bofred


How did you get started with Bofred? What was the inspiration and driving force behind starting your own thing?

“Boredom really… I got bored with working really hard for other people and executing their creative visions. I had my own. That gave me confidence to take the leap. I was stuck in a 8-6 job. Underpaid and creatively frustrated. That’s enough to make you be brave enough and start your own thing!”

At what point did you realise or start to feel that Bofred was worth pursuing and that it could be a viable business?

“I still don’t know. We have three years behind us. I work really hard, I give it my all. I’m an early riser and a confident business owner. That must count. I think it’s a viable business because I LOVE my job. I strive for perfection and originality & creative indulgence… We have many opportunities ahead of us that excite me.”


Was there a point in time where you almost gave up? Tell us about that – and why you kept going nonetheless.

“I want to give up when I realise I could make more money… I made a lot more before I had my own company. But money isn’t everything you know… and I am not giving up…”

Which piece that you developed, are you most proud of?

“The Arch Table Lamp. I LOVE it.”

What motivates you in your work or where do you find your inspiration?

“I go to lots of art exhibitions. Im an artist and a photographer – and not strictly a designer. My designs are just sculptural yet practical items for the home. I find most inspiration in art and music.”


Do you have a mentor? Tell us about him or her. If not, who would you most love to learn from?

“Oooooh, tough one. I perhaps need a mentor. I read a lot about other small businesses and their success stories – so I absorb what other creatives are doing around me. So I can learn from their mistakes and make insightful decisions in my business.”

How would you define your home style or style of your home?

“It’s lots of found items from travels and heirlooms. Lots of art and photographs and books and textures. I don’t really follow trends – I just buy what I like and I can use in my home. Everything has a story, I know where everything is from, when why and how. Nothing is bought in sets of 8. Nothing matches the drapes. As one evolves – as one should – I let go of things and replace the insignificant purchases.”

Do you have inspiration sources that you apply to styling your home?

“Nope. I get influenced with work research and work and home collide. But I am a huge fan of young London based interior designer, Studio Ashby.”

What is your favourite room at home and why?

“The little corner seat at the front of the house. It’s a built in window seat. Trees being the view and dappled sunlight. Morning coffee / Friday night wine corner / Saturday morning meditation / Sunday lazy reading nook.”

What’s your favourite piece at home? Why do you love it.

“I bought a Staffordshire ceramic dog at a SPCA in Underberg, Kwazulu-Natal, and it’s my favourite possession. It cost nothing, literally I think R20 – but I gave a large donation because I’m an animal activist and it would only be fair. They did not realise the value. I LONG for a pair. My favourite pieces is the ART in my home, it grows and move around in the house… so it’s ever changing and ever pleasing.”

Do you have an architect, artist or an iconic designer who inspires you?

“Jacques Grange! ( interior designer ) & Eileen Grey // Cy Twombly as multi-disciplinary artist & Giacometti. No, too many to name. List is endless.”

What place do you escape to? A place you like to go to, to recharge or an address that makes you feel good?

“I go back “home” where i grew up – Durban – every three months. I visit my parents, my sister and her family. That’s solid quality time. And I can just be.”

“For me to recharge, take me to a secluded cabin, no electricity, no signal, no instagram – no evidence that I existed in that space – a waterfall…. my dog and my husband. Western Cape has endless magical spots such as these that I enjoy with my family and friends.”

Do you have a philosophy of life, or advice you follow religiously?

“Go to bed early. Go to bed with an empty mind. Go to sleep relaxed. Talk to your dog, your partner or read an easy read. Listen to music. Laugh. Get off your phone. And wake up early. Have a coffee, go for a walk, make a healthy breakfast and start work bright and early!”

Name one piece of advice you could give to someone who’d like to be pursue their own dream or business idea:

“Be Brave. Be original and have fun!”

If you could go back in time and meet one famous person, who would you want to meet and why:

“Geogia O Keefe. she had a lot of dogs. We would hang out and paint in her garden.”

What is your favourite destination outside of South Africa, and why do you love it?

“I haven’t travelled enough… but I loved travelling to Sri Lanka for a friends wedding – and we backpacked for three weeks after that…”

Name 5 of your favourite spots in Cape Town for…

Breakfast or coffee: Hemelhuijs.

Spending a hot summers day: In Yzerfontein sipping crisp Chardonnay at my mother in law’s home and taking a quick sunset dip in the freezing Atlantic!

Spending a cold winters day: If it’s raining: At home, with snacks and documentaries. If it’s just cold: Hiking up the mountain and enjoying the views and the fresh air!

Finding inspiration: At an art exhibition – hopefully by myself – on a saturday morning, SMITH or Stevenson Gallery.

A night out with friends: A night IN with friends. Or greek in the courtyard at Marias.

For more info about Bofred and the beautiful furniture they make, take a look at their website and instagram.