Conceptually smart with loads of cool...

By Helen Grange Time of article published Sep 21, 2016

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Functionality is the key to Dokter and Misses' highly successful minimalist furniture, writes Helen Grange

The origin of the name Dokter and Misses is a secret, but what’s immediately evident when you meet this married design duo – Adriaan Hugo and Katy Taplin – is they’ve cracked the code to getting along, in every way possible.

I find them beavering away in their showroom in Juta Street, Braamfontein, Joburg, a suitably quiet space full of their modern, minimalist furniture, lighting and interior pieces.

Hugo emerges from his workshop and Taplin from her back office, and they take a seat together in the showroom for the interview, backdropped by a beautiful room divider their team recently created, a simple, arresting piece that was shown recently at Joburg’s 100% Design show, where they were the featured designers. They won the award for best stand.

Both 34, Hugo and Taplin exude an ease which comes with success, built on slow, incremental gains since they launched their brand in 2007. Taplin is the natural main speaker, and they fill in the gaps for each other in the familiar, road-tested way that couples do.

Together for nine years and married for seven, synchronicity defines their work and their relationship. Hugo and Taplin met in 2003 while they were studying – he was studying industrial design at the former Wits Tech (now UJ) and she was learning graphic design at the University of Pretoria. “We were involved in each other’s projects and found we had a good creative chemistry,” says Taplin.

Their first collaboration was screen-printed cardboard handbags for SA Fashion Week, in 2005. Then Taplin spent some time working in New York, and wanted Hugo – who was venturing into lighting design – to join her, but red tape prevented it. So she came home and teamed up with him professionally.

Dokter and Misses – DAM, for short – was born in 2007, and in the same year they moved into their first showroom in 44 Stanley, Milpark.

“It was a tiny space, with low overheads, but we needed a shop, and creatives came to us with all sorts of projects which we would collaborate on,” Taplin recalls.

Their first furniture range under the Dokter and Misses brand was based on Bauhaus’s modernist thinking.

“We were Bauhaus befok,” Taplin smiles.

Then in 2008, the duo got a showing of their work in a public space, with a sculpture made of bent metal, erected at Ellis Park train station.

Last year, they introduced another public work, a concrete, solar-powered bench that has free wi-fi and is fitted with USB charging ports, called isabelo. There is one in Stellenbosch and one in Braamfontein.

2010 was a highlight year for Dokter and Misses, when they were commissioned to produce furniture and lighting for Main Street Life, a residential development in a converted Maboneng warehouse, and were also invited to design a room at Twelve Decades, a boutique hotel in the same inner-city precinct.

They exhibited for the first time at the Joburg Art Fair, as part of the Southern Guild stand, and have collaborated closely with Southern Guild since, including as board members.

In the last few years, their collector’s pieces have captured the attention of design aficionados around the globe. They’ve exhibited in London, Miami, New York, Dubai and Basel, and have designed furniture, lighting or interior objects for an impressive range of clients, including MTV, MultiChoice, Nando’s, Nike, Propertuity, the Neighbourgoods Market, Wits, the University of Pretoria, UJ and the University of Columbia.

In February, they were part of the Beauty exhibition in New York’s Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, and locally, again in collaboration with Southern Guild, they feature in the new WHATIFTHEWORLD gallery in Keyes Art Mile in Rosebank, Joburg.

Dokter and Misses furniture is classic and contemporary – it embraces Scandinavian-type simplicity but with bold, graphic shapes. It’s conceptually smart, and urban cool, but functionality is key.

“The shape gets derived from the function. We start with a two-dimensional drawing and then try to make it into an object that is useful, while still keeping its graphic quality,” explains Taplin.

It might look familiar, but you can be assured you haven’t encountered the exact shapes and designs you see in Dokter and Misses creations.

As Hugo stresses: “As a rule, we don’t follow trends. We always try to do something that has never been seen or done before, to create a new design language.”

Adds Taplin: “Adriaan masters the technical aspect, and I will look at the graphics, how to balance the object, in colour and shape. We communicate well visually.”

A recent piece, a couch with “rock cushions” by Ronel Jordaan, features a frame built like a cage containing the rocks. “Someone said it looked like a swimming pool fence in Alberton. I really liked that!” smiles Taplin.

Several designs feature contemporary reinterpretations of traditional African patterns. For instance, the LALA Shwantla drinks cabinet, nominated as Design Indaba’s Most Beautiful Object in South Africa in 2014, combines art deco inspiration with the geometry of Basotho patterns.

Dokter and Misses moved out of 44 Stanley in 2014 and last year moved into a bigger workshop in Jeppestown, while continuing their storefront and project space in the CO-OP building in Braamfontein.

“I like living in Joburg, I like the energy,” says Taplin, who has the benefit of comparison, as her work has taken her far and wide.

“And if we were to move to New York, say, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do here, with the materials we use and the way we produce.”

The duo continually collaborate with local artists and artisans, source materials locally and use local manufacturing methods. Their workshop and sales team consists of 10 people. It’s hard not to take work home, especially with crushing deadlines, so Hugo and Taplin have to agree sometimes, “no work talk tonight”.

They have settled into being home bodies, Taplin admits. “We don’t go out much, but we entertain,” she says.

Would they ever live elsewhere? “I wouldn’t mind living half the year in Spain,” Hugo says. I mention Cape Town. “No, Cape Town is lovely, but it’s another place in South Africa. I like the idea of Spain, yes,” Taplin agrees.

They have an exciting travel agenda, with a show in Germany to prepare for, and a possible exhibition of their work in Los Angeles.

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