South African designer Katie Thompson recycles used everyday items into sophisticated interior objects. Her latest piece de resistance: An entire study based on the individual parts of a Mercedes-Benz SL.
Text: Benjamin Cantu

Sophisticated interior objects.

Discarded suitcases, broken scales, flaking and chipped enamel dishes – taken by themselves, these might be considered worthless fragments and bric-a-brac of our quotidian lives, unfit even for a second outing and new beginning at a flea market or yard sale. Cape Town’s Katie Thompson, however, finds herself drawn to these well-worn everyday helpers, objects battered by the world and drifting through society in their broken or incomplete state. Taking an abstract view and approach, the young designer tries to identify new and novel uses for these neglected remnants and delights in giving them a new lease of life: Under her capable hands, a basic bucket lid is transformed into a timeless wall clock, an opened suitcase becomes inviting upholstery furniture or a 1950s vacuum cleaner morphs into an elegant floor lamp.

On display at Thompson’s 100-square-metre studio shop Recreate in the south of Cape Town, these modern treasures have found a new home in the city’s former industrial district of Woodstock – Cape Town’s new creative epicentre hosting plenty of innovative artist and design studios in the area’s unused warehouses and brewery buildings.

Nostalgia versus innovation.

There is a sense of excitement in the air – not least of all due to the metropolises’ recent nomination as World Design Capital 2014. In this spirit and context, Thompson’s lovingly furnished showroom plays host to a great and eclectic mix of nostalgia and innovation, junk and design, creativity and upcycling – incidentally, this is a term she only encountered after founding her company, but a principle the designer has been pursuing instinctively right from the start. After all, upcycling denotes the process of turning discarded materials into new and higher quality products.

How it all began.

After her studies of interior design and collaborations with name designers like Cape Town’s Jo Carlin, Thompson took the first tentative step towards entrepreneurship and her own company in 2009. It all started with four separate pieces of wood, appropriated from a chair and turned into a delicate seat with Perspex elements by the then 27-year-old designer.

A daring and impressive feat that immediately won her an invitation to the directional Decorex exhibition in Johannesburg, thus laying the foundations for her bold business scheme. In the early days, Thompson would traverse the country in her old pick-up truck to sift through potential treasures at recycling facilities or garage sales.

Furniture made of individual Mercedes SL components.

Nowadays, customers might approach her directly in order to ask her to revive objects with sentimental value. And although many of her works grow very dear to Thompson’s heart, it remains her first and foremost goal to reintroduce them all into everyday use eventually.

Her to date biggest challenge: a collaboration with Mercedes-Benz. As part of the assignment, the functional artist picked seven elements from the wealth of individual SL components to recreate the fixtures and furnishings of an office.

Thanks to her ability to picture these designs in front of her mind’s eye all the way down to the tiniest detail – without a single sketch or stroke – Thompson passed this unusual task and test with flying colours.

Together with local artisans and craftsmen she turned the car’s dashboard into a unique desk, replete with plenty of new practical functions: Here, the former speedometer became a magnetised pad, the air vents gave way to a business card slot and the ignition lock now sparks office technology via a USB charger. The driver’s seat gained a new lease of life as a comfortable office chair, while the oval speed and rev counter now displays a gently curved world clock. And in order to underscore the dynamic drive experience – during office hours and beyond – Thompson transformed the rear-view mirror into a desk lamp, complemented by a gas and brake pedal pen holder.

By 2014, i.e. when her hometown becomes the World Design Capital, Thompson plans to show off a broad range of her wares. But those who can’t wait to experience her reimagined objects up close are invited to view the goods at the upcoming Creative Week Cape Town (15-23 September 2012).

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