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Contemporary artisanal furniture design : a case of practitioners in Cape Town, South Africa
Van Schalkwyk, Misha
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The study aims to describe the practice and nature of contemporary artisanal furniture design in Cape Town. This description focuses on: the design and production processes utilised, the shared principles and perceptions among the practitioners, the challenges experienced in the practice, and the role that artisanal furniture design fulfils within the industry today. The research problem that the study investigates, is the lack of understanding of what the practice of artisanal furniture design involves today. Being a resurgence of craftsmanship, the shared challenges of the contemporary practice are not clearly defined. The additional benefits of this practice to the city of Cape Town are also not identified. Taking the form of an exploratory investigation, a case study was used as research strategy to observe and examine four contemporary artisanal furniture designers in Cape Town. Multimethod qualitative research was applied to gather data, employed in a cross-sectional time horizon. The qualitative methods included direct observation, semi-structured interviews, research exercises, photo documentation and field notes. David Pye's Theory of Making was used as conceptual framework for the study, determining the level of risk involved with the various stages of artisanal production, and evaluating the grade of workmanship used by the practitioners to create the artisanal furniture pieces. The study's findings were analysed according the dimensions of Pye's book, and applied as themes for discussion in the document. The limitations of this study are the danger of personal involvement of the researcher, and thus the influence of subjectivity. The study is also limited to its scope of product design, and further limited to the focus area of furniture design. Based on four artisanal furniture designers in Cape Town, the findings are related to these specific cases, not representing the complete practice. The result of the study is an in-depth synopsis describing the nature and approach that contemporary artisanal furniture designers in Cape Town share. This description of the practice is a valuable contribution for the role that these designers fulfil, while establishing a defined community of practice. The study also contributes towards the documentation of South African furniture design, being of high value to the limited existing pool of research.