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High-tech Gifts and Low-tech Sanctuaries Vie for Attention at Decorex

The Cape Town iteration of South Africa's leading design and lifestyle expo saw cutting-edge smart home technology competing with digital-free designer retreats for the attention and purchase orders of buyers from around the world.

Photo: The leading lights of the South African design community were on show at this year’s Decorex.(Decorex SA)
The leading lights of the South African design community were on show at this year's Decorex.
Photo: The leading lights of the South African design community were on show at this year’s Decorex. (Decorex SA)
The leading lights of the South African design community were on show at this year's Decorex.

The interrelated nature of design and technology was the primary focus of Decorex 2017, South Africa's premier decor, design and lifestyle exhibition. The technology behind the smart homes of the future, as well as the digital solutions set to transform everyday lifestyles, were among the event's key themes, while the need to escape from some of the more intrusive manifestations of certain contemporary innovations was also given considerable floorspace.

With regard to just how technology can facilitate design in the built environment, renewable-energy solutions for smart homes proved to be one of the biggest draws at this year's event. In particular, a number of exhibitors had on offer systems designed to boost the sustainability of buildings, while enhancing their overall environmental compatibility.

Taking advantage of the fact that consumers are increasingly looking to adopt sustainable energy supply systems, while also being keen to cut down on rising electricity costs, Cape Town-based GreenSun Solar Energy Solutions had on offer a solar-energy storage system said to be suitable for both domestic and business use. Making its debut at the event, the system uses batteries designed by Tesla, the California-based energy storage giant, to store photovoltaic solar power for later use, feeding it directly into a building's electricity network when required.

This targets a peculiarly South African problem. Over recent years, Eskom, the country's largest electricity company, has been rocked by accusations of poor governance as rolling power outages have disrupted South Africa's electricity supply time and again. As a result – and as a way of future-proofing themselves against rising costs and power outage – many African consumers are now keen to supplement their access to electricity from the national grid with solar power, seeing this as their own reliable clean-energy source. Summarising the appeal of his business, Director and Co-Founder Xavier Louw said: "GreenSun offers a complete off-grid solution for both homes and businesses."

Intelligent-building technology is also increasingly being used to meet the needs of eco-homeowners way beyond just power generation. In the case of Cape Town-based Ground Floor Projects, it designs and supplies a system that allows the time-based temperature, light control and security systems of any home to be remotely co-ordinated. Using KNX, an internationally recognised smart home operating protocol, homeowners can access their home security, audio and energy networks from anywhere in the world, allowing them to maximise efficiency and their own peace of mind.

Assessing the likely impact of the system, Shaun Mackrill, a KNX Consultant working with Ground Floor, said: "The KNX protocol is set to make a big splash in South Africa. Although it's still quite new here, the popularity of the platform is growing, a development driven by its adoption by a number of big-name brands, including Samsung and LG."

Addressing the need to create a sanctuary away from the high-tech intrusions that characterise modern life, Decorex also featured a range of revitalising decorative designs, soothing colour stories and lifestyle products, all centred around the concept of creating a space deliberately disconnected from the digital world. Outlining the thinking behind this particular aspect of the expo, Anita Bloom, the Creative Director of Decorex, said: "At present, there is a big move back towards nature, which is drawing its inspiration from various natural textures and colours. It also incorporates a number of other non-artificial elements, such as wood and plants, into the home environment."

Such thinking was exemplified in the Trend House, an African colonial style show home designed as a visual representation of just how these trends could be realised within a calming living space. The project combined the works of a number of South Africa's most creative designers across a variety of room settings.

In the case of Dylan Thomaz, a renowned Cape Town-born designer, he focused on the creation of an installation that looked to merge old and new world themes into one harmonious living environment. His approach was underpinned by the strategic use of natural muted tones against white, with glass and tropical plants tactically employed to create a sense of African colonial elegance.

Explaining his approach, Thomaz said: "We spend far too much time looking at flat screens and touching electronics. Our senses can be soothed, however, by appropriately textured interiors, a technique that also adds intrigue to any space.

"Every space I create also always utilises greenery. It symbolises life and refreshment, while also giving every room a real feeling of depth."

Photo: Botanical giftware from Natascha van Niekerk. (Decorex SA)
Botanical giftware from Natascha van Niekerk.
Photo: Botanical giftware from Natascha van Niekerk. (Decorex SA)
Botanical giftware from Natascha van Niekerk.
Photo: The Trend House: Decamping from all things digital. (Decorex SA)
The Trend House: Decamping from all things digital.
Photo: The Trend House: Decamping from all things digital. (Decorex SA)
The Trend House: Decamping from all things digital.

Another approach billed as an ideal antidote to the digital overload that characterises the 21st century was ozone hydrotherapy, a form of alternative healthcare said to alleviate all ailments while relaxing the mind. The technique makes use of activated oxygen, which is said to help improve the circulation, while alleviating the symptoms of various illnesses, allergies and injuries and promoting a feeling of emotional well-being.

Among the exhibitors offering their own take on ozone hydrotherapy was Ozone Elite, a Cape Town-based company with a growing export market in Asia and the Middle East. Taking a similar approach was Aquazone, with the company making the bold – if unverified – claim that its treatments can "prevent or cure 249 known medical conditions, including hay fever, diabetes, cancer and heart complications".

Made in Africa

Away from the imaginative claims of some of the more medically minded exhibitors, a number of the stands at the show featured items with a little more proven provenance, including an extensive range of 100% locally manufactured, handcrafted goods, destined for both the domestic and export markets. With the event pitched as providing international buyers with a window on African-made giftware and furnishings, such items met the brief admirably.

Decorex always draws a host of international buyers, with a notable Asian presence evident at this year's event. Commenting on the opportunities the event presented for such far-from-home would-be purchasers, Sian Cullingworth, Decorex's Portfolio Director, said: "Every year, we showcase an extensive variety of decor, design and lifestyle products to buyers from around the world, including items targeted at the hospitality, retail, commercial and residential sectors.

"Overall, our range of African craft pavilions and trade offerings are particularly chosen with international trade buyers in mind. I believe there is plenty here that will go down well in Asian markets. This year, we have also introduced a trade business programme. This has been designed to pair exhibitors with buyers looking for their particular products or services."

In terms of the African giftware market, one exhibitor clearly looking to make an impact among the more eco-friendly buyers was Vinwood. Operating out of Cape Town, the company specialises in creating household giftware and furniture made from recycled wood sourced from disused wine vats from the Stellenbosch wine-producing region.

Explaining the thinking behind his novel business model, Jianni Geras, the Chief Executive of Vinwood, said: "Many winemakers are at a loss as to what do with their oak vats once the winemaking process has been completed. We take this problem off their hands and re-craft this barrel oak into contemporary furniture and household items, including wine racks, sushi boards and platters. We see our products as a fantastic fit with the Chinese market, especially given the growing popularity of South African wines across Asia."

Taking more of an artisan approach, Natascha van Niekerk produces a range of fine-art giftware, jewellery, fabric prints and photographic wallpaper, all featuring South African botanical imagery. Van Niekerk's work, which she sees as straddling the boundary between interior design and giftware, is said to take its inspiration from South Africa's Cape Floral Kingdom.

Taking a notably more retro approach was Pretoria-based Mosaic Arts, with its decorative bespoke mosaics now being used in a number of residential and commercial projects across the world. Outlining the appeal of this classic design style, Director Marina Giovitto Ehlers said: "Mosaics are right back in fashion, largely because they are just so striking, durable and appealing."

As well as creating individual finished artworks/giftware pieces, the company also undertakes commercial installation and signage work. One of its most recent commissions saw it briefed to redesign a number of Dubai Airport's business lounges.

Photo: Hoping to crack the Asian markets: African-themed household designs. (Decorex SA)
Hoping to crack the Asian markets: African-themed household designs.
Photo: Hoping to crack the Asian markets: African-themed household designs. (Decorex SA)
Hoping to crack the Asian markets: African-themed household designs.

Decorex Cape Town 2017 was held from 27-30 April at the Cape Town International Convention Centre.

Mark Ronan, Special Correspondent, Cape Town

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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