For the love of wood

WORDS: Chrizane van Zyl


Remember Chocolate Log bars, The Wonder Years and video game consoles? Graphic designer Mike van Heerden needed only a few simple tools to create nostalgic-cool wooden designs.

Durban-based designer Mike van Heerden returned to the student life after spending five years in the design industry. He recently completed his degree in Graphic Design at the Durban University of Technology, where he became interested in the use of wood as a tactile medium.

“There is something about the grain on wood that is really appealing,” says Mike.

His latest pieces were designed around the concept of nostalgia. Van Heerden’s work has a pop art, retro feel - but he believes it should not simply be aesthetically appealing. “Beauty can’t hold a piece together by itself,” says van Heerden. “Concept plays a huge part in how I design.”

He uses a CNC Router and laser cutter, and assembles the pieces using basic woodwork methods. “I use mainly entry level tools, like a hammer, sander, hacksaw, chisel, lots of wood glue and a drill.”

Mike enjoys the synergy of woodwork, 3D and graphic elements that form the basis of his designs. “I really enjoy solving design problems by making something that looks great, but is functional too.” Mike is currently looking at ways to make his design into a viable business. “I’d really love to see my work in people’s homes or workspaces.”

He enjoys starting with an idea and creating a tangible product using his own hands. “As clichéd as it sounds, I am just inspired by wood and its endless possibilities.”

Mike seeks inspiration from magazines and the Internet. “I don’t have many specific designers that I follow, but I am always on the lookout for a great design,” he says. “However, there is one particular designer whose work inspires as well as makes me feel quite inferior, an American designer named A.J. Fosnik.”

His latest creations may be purely decorational, but van Heerden hopes to explore the avenues of furniture and industrial design. “But before I get ahead of myself, I need to test what the responses are to my work.”

“I believe that design is such an important part of everyday life,” says Mike. “I value beauty, especially in living environments, from cities to living rooms.” For him Cape Town  is a perfect example of a city that embraces design into its infrastrucutre, making it a space one can easily live in. “It seems that Joburg and Durban are catching onto this idea,” he says.

His woodwork is showcased on his online portfolio. “Currently I am looking for a graphic design position but will keep creating these pieces on the side.”

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