Second nature

This eco-friendly and socially-responsible brand elegantly blends nature, ethics, and style.

Photo courtesy Uniqwa Furniture

Author

Sarah O’Donovan

Uniqwa Furniture pieces are the embodiment of raw, relaxed and, well, unique. Using recycled materials to bring its sophisticated designs to life, the company prides itself on being sustainable and socially responsible.

From banana leaves and driftwood to recycled elm and plantation timber, the enormous catalogue showcases some of the most unexpected transformations from natural waste to artistic, functional furniture.

But using sustainable materials is simply second nature for founder and director Charl van Heerden, who cites a number of benefits including environmental impact, character and connectedness.

‘There are so many sustainable and renewable resources that don’t impact the environment negatively,’ he says. ‘Using recycled materials is the responsible way to add beauty to our homes.

‘These types of materials often have even more beauty because of the history and exposure to the elements,’ he adds. ‘They create such amazing character that can’t be replicated by man.’

The fusion of earthy roots meets modern living seems to work in an infinite loop of inspiration, with the materials inspiring the designs, the designs inspiring the mood, and the mood inspiring the lifestyle.

‘Our designs are inspired by nature and by raw materials. Our products create calmness and relaxation in a room, yet maintain a sophistication and functionality,’ Charl says.

Masekela Oversized Lounger
Photo courtesy Uniqwa Furniture
Zulu Daybed
Photo courtesy Uniqwa Furniture

The materials inspiring the designs, the designs inspiring the mood, and the mood inspiring the lifestyle

Fittingly, a lot of Uniqwa pieces come with interesting and distinctive backstories:

‘I am loving our Masekela oversized lounger, named after the great South African Jazz Trumpeter, Hugh Masekela,’ Charl says. ‘It’s made from the very sustainable water hyacinth, which is an extremely fast growing invasive weed that can cover entire waterways if left to grow uncontrollably.’

Often harvested and thrown away to clear space and let the light in to waterways, the water hyacinth is as unusual and striking as it is eco-friendly when it comes to material choices.

‘The lounger represents the perfect way to relax at home: lounging in the outdoor living space with a great book and, of course, a tasty pale ale!’ he says.

Also available from Uniqwa are decorative wall hangings, animal-friendly throws and rugs, light fittings and more.

The Driftwood Elephant wall hanging makes a beautiful, beachy statement while the Bindu pendant light – made from woven banana leaves – adds a subtle, tribal touch to a room.

Or, for the less daring, pieces such as the Harper Sofa made from reclaimed teakwood in an aged finish strike a perfect balance between earthy and contemporary.

Strand Four Post Bed
Photo courtesy Uniqwa Furniture
Harper Sofa
Photo courtesy Uniqwa Furniture

‘People love to buy into a concept or story that they may not have been able to imagine on their own’

The demand for eco-friendly furniture design across projects and industries of all types is clear with Uniqwa pieces being seen around the globe. From ‘glamping’ and resort projects in Fiji and Mauritius and an Italian boutique hotel in Milan, to clients making purchases from Scandinavia, America, Asia and New Zealand.

When it comes to building and marketing homes, the importance of including furniture settings can’t be overstated. These pieces promise to bring instant warmth to a space. They make a brand new house with open space and big white walls feel like home for anyone who walks through the door.

‘People love to buy into a concept or story that they may not have been able to imagine on their own,’ Charl concurs.

He says displaying a home with thoughtful decoration helps make it inviting and alluring for potential clients.

This rings true even for custom-built homes – one of the best things you can do to secure future business is to invest in professional photography to promote your completed and furnished projects.

‘We are living in a visually stimulating environment and people have become accustomed to scrolling through thousands of beautiful images all over the internet and social media,’ Charl says.

So it’s important to be able to not only meet the expectations a client may have, but to impress them with your portfolio too and a good build, a good setting, and good photos can do just that.

Behind the business

Director and founder of Uniqwa Furniture Charl van Heerden grew up in South Africa where he says his career truly began in a woodwork classroom.

‘Our woodwork teacher expected the best of us and guided us very well in the art of working with timber,’ he says. ‘It became an ingrained part of who I was and the passion and work ethic I learnt in those early years were carried through into my career.’

He recalls with fondness his final exhibition piece, a solid American White Oak Welsh dresser. But there was a slight deviation when he began a marketing degree at Stellenbosch University, until he eventually relocated to Australia, completed a diploma in furniture design and technology, and began working in the industry.

‘The opportunity to begin Uniqwa came from the closure of the company that I had been working for, leaving the franchise stores stranded without the supply chain they had bought into,’ he explains. ‘Uniqwa was born with their support to continue the supply of the product the franchises were in desperate need of.’

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