Q&A with Bielle Bellingham in the Sunday Times

Mila Proudfoot interviewed me for the Sunday Times in 2019, first published here

Your forms are quite playful and daring, definitely not your average chair and sofa vibes…tell us a bit more about that…
I’ve become a little skeptical of anything too ‘tasteful’ or ‘de rigueur’. Perhaps as a reaction to how earnest and fearful I had become over time, and most definitely after realising how important ‘fun’ and ‘escapism’ are for every single human, no matter how fancy or successful. I hold beauty in the highest regard, so I’m trying to loosen the grip around its neck. The pieces we choose to surround ourselves with, affect how we think and feel. So by this rationale, I suppose I am trying to be a little more friendly and brave.

The biggest challenge you face as a design consultant and maker…
Reality. As the Editor of ELLE Decoration and Creative Director for Littlegig, my role was to fetch ideas from the future, and then contextualise and share them as concepts with people who were interested. BUT, the lived reality of how we actually design things and systems is tricky #AF. The practical reality of budgets, ‘decision by committee’, egos, social dynamics, and social impact are all incredibly complex conditions that we have to dance with. That said, restraints are always good for design. In response to some of the challenges I’ve faced lately, I’m now investigating how we can accelerate our design efficiencies and excellence through a much better understanding of the psychology of collaboration and co-creation.

Are you challenging the status quo of the local design sector, if so, how?
DISCLAIMER: Firstly I need to acknowledge how both compounded and diverse the design sector is. I am affiliated with a very small, and admittedly rather presumptuous section (interior design) who typically service about 1% of the population. I’m am therefore not actually entitled to say what I am about to say:

As designers, we’ve been resting on our laurels – perhaps its fatigue, fear, selfdom, or possibly complacency? ‘African design’ has enjoyed incredible ululations and salutations in the local and international press and on major (major) platforms, but we haven’t actually leveraged any of this to affect real and radical change on a grand scale where it actually matters.

The reality is (or rather my subjective view of what our reality is) – that we haven’t gained enough traction in holistic, integrated and relevant design education; or done enough deep, collaborative thinking and critiquing that builds our design identity; the ability to do extensive, contextual R&D (research and development) is still a relative luxury; and theoretical, historical, economic and social research data is not being used cleverly or often enough.

Most critically, comparatively very few lives are being drastically improved by local design (especially by local decor.)

The extraordinary designer South African designer, artist, and observer Peet Pienaar explains that ‘If people can see it, they can make it happen. We as designers need to provide vision. Our role is to make imagination real.’

We are overly concerned about our own careers and the bottom line, so much so that we’re not dedicating enough of our resources and energy to unlock the collective’s imagination (or maybe I am just deflecting my own culpability?)

What can we expect from the brand in terms of materiality? Are you more drawn to working with some materials and not others?
Going forward, I will always try to choose the most sustainable materials and processes (which is a minefield of its own.) I will predominantly stick to small-scale technology, and where possible, will look for new ways to recycle materials (although I have not come up with anything exciting here yet.)

You’ve had a varied career in the design and creative space, leading you up to this point, how did you arrive here at the Bielle Bellingham Design Consultancy?

It’s finally time. I’ve chosen the diverse roles that I’ve had for the skills they could teach me – journalism, styling, marketing, experience design, leadership, production management, creative direction, and commercialisation. My fantasy has always been to combine these skills, in order to offer something new-fangled that is truly aligned with our living patterns.

What is the ethos behind all of the products that you design and stock, that ingredient that pulls them all together?
It’s about how the pieces relate to people, and the psychology and social impact of stuff and ‘collecting’. Our ‘stuff’ still has the power to shape our sense of self – but now more than ever, ‘more stuff’ can be dangerous for us, and it’s definitely cataclysmic for our environment. Viktor Papanek explains; ‘Design, if it is to be ecologically responsible and socially responsive, must be revolutionary and radical.’ Nothing I am doing is by any means revolutionary or radical yet, but this is my next challenge.

What, above all else, has informed your design career and landed you at the place you’re at today?
Trust. I hold most of my opinions quite lightly, but when it comes to aesthetics I tend to have definite ideas that I’ve learned to trust and enjoy. I’m confident in my design decisions because I’ve honed my intuition through a decade of experience (which also included many, many mistakes). Aesthetically, I make connections quite quickly, which has landed me where I am.

In this line of work, what still scares you/ keeps you up at night?
Not making a difference. I’m terrified of being average.

Your collection and your consultancy work is so much about emotion and the feeling one gets from a space or its parts…what do you hope buyers of your products and clients or your services to feel?
I hope that you’ll feel that you’ve been seen, heard and served. That the objects and spaces serve the greater good. And that you’ll feel inspired and delighted.

You’ve said: “I’m investigating the role that decor needs to play in our future. It needs to align with our truth and serve more than just 1%.” Can you tell us a bit more about how you perceive the role of décor in our lives?
Decor sits at an exciting threshold where function, culture, and beauty collide, and shelter is a basic human right. Therefore, the way we are able to furnish our homes is a profound statement about our society and ultimately affects our wellbeing. We need much less than we think we do, but objects and structures that are carefully designed to work in harmony with nature, as solutions to people’s needs, can very be powerful catalysts for positive change.

Sisi Wam…obsessed, tell me more: who is Sisi Wam. Are these your creations?
Hestemari and Mienkie Ferreira are the divine sisters behind the Sisi Wam creations. We will be releasing some new designs very soon which I have worked together with them on.

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