John Vogel is one of South Africa’s foremost furniture designers, whose work has helped define a distinctly local vernacular. From early on in his career, he turned to his immediate environment for inspiration, evolving a language of nature-inspired forms that are highly contemporary.
Born in Durban, Vogel trained as an architect in Port Elizabeth but soon found he preferred making furniture. He moved to Cape Town in 1991 to set up his furniture design business and after exploring various materials, settled on wood as his primary medium. Describing himself as a “three-dimensional storyteller”, he explores organic forms in an intuitive way in order to evoke an emotive response.
Working with the pretext that the state of our consciousness is proportional to the quality of our relationship with nature, the focus of his work is to create vernacular pieces that promote the connection of people to the natural world. Core design values are simplicity and imagination, which translate into refined shapes that are exquisitely finished, beautifully comfortable and timeless.
Several of his production and collectible designs have taken on iconic status. The Nguni dining chair takes its inspiration from the curved horns of the Nguni cow, with a woven seat that is a modern-day version of a Cape Dutch riempie. A version of it was made by US decor chain West Elm, whose collaboration with John was one if its most successful “design under license” partnerships.
Made for Southern Guild in 2013, Love Me, Love Me Not is a nested table designed in collaboration with artist Justin Plunkett that continues to sell in multiple editions. It won the Design Foundation’s Object That Moves Award the 2012, which recognises an advanced and original product evaluated on aesthetic appearance, quality, innovation, and, very importantly, commercial success.
Over the years, Vogel’s work has progressed from a mechanical and reductionist design point of view toward a more intuitive and expressive one. With this has come a shift into more sculptural work. The transcendent Beauty is in the Beast focuses on form as an instinctive language through a measured balance of the fluidity between nature and space. It was sold at Dorotheum’s Design First Auction in 2017.