Designer-maker spotlight: Dokter and Misses
Text: Zodwa Kumalo
Photograph: Hayden Phipps/Southern Guild
Even to the untrained eye, a Dokter and Misses piece is unmistakable. The vibrant energy, distinctive use of colour and pattern, and geometrically inspired design of each product is somewhat of a calling card.
Firmly entrenched and lauded in the design scene, the multi-disciplinary product design company, co-founded by husband-and-wife team, Katy Taplin and Adriaan Hugo, aims to create unique pieces and experiment with materials and production processes. ‘We like to push envelopes and challenge the status quo,’ says Katy.
Both are fresh off a flight from New York – a favoured destination to catch up with old friends and visit places such as The Judd Foundation, the Noguchi Museum and Camp, and the ‘Notes on Fashion’ exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for general inspiration.
Back in 2007, when Dokter and Misses was born and occupied a small, shared space at Joburg’s 44 Stanley, the name (the meaning of which still remains a secret) did not roll as easily off everyone’s tongues as it does now. Nor, they have previously confessed, did the plan or vision for the company immediately present itself.
Katy’s graphic design and illustration degree and Adriaan’s industrial design degree naturally combined to set off the dynamic duo’s magic formula. Katy had been doing a stint in New York and Adriaan had been working with design maverick Gregor Jenkin before they decided to join forces. Adriaan draws form and Katy applies colour or graphics. Their debut range – a cacophony of primary colours and prints finding itself on plates, purses and lampshades – still occupies pride of place in the homes of early devotees.
In 2010, the company produced furniture and lighting for the residential development Main Street Life in Maboneng and designed a room for the 12 Decades Hotel in the same precinct. Dubbed ‘a Joburg Minehaus’, the room is described as a Bauhaus-meets-Joburg mining town concept.
There have been numerous milestones for Dokter and Misses throughout the years. In 2011, they launched the still-popular De Wildt ceramic range, which includes canisters, cookie jars, decanters and egg cups. The following year they designed customised drawing desks and lockers for the studios of the University of Pretoria’s architecture department. In 2014, their cabinet LALA Shwantla was nominated for the Design Indaba’s Most Beautiful Object in South Africa competition. Famed American interior designer, Kelly Wearstler, went on to include one of these cabinets, extra-length (Katy and Adriaan call it the ‘LALA Limo’), in one of her LA home projects.
There was also that time they were featured in the New York Times (2014) and in the same year, redesigned the trophy for the MTV Africa Music Awards, as well as exhibiting at Design Miami/Basel, the global forum for design.
Last year, Dokter and Misses moved a few blocks in Braamfontein to their new collaborative project, 99 Juta Street, comprising four floors and eight spaces occupied by like-minded creative tenants.
‘It’s nice to be in a building with other designers – there’s more of a community and it’s a destination for design enthusiasts. Being connected to the city has always been important to us and Braamfontein is where it all goes down. The good, the bad, and the ugly,’ says Katy.
Southern Guild, however, has helped steer the trailblazing company’s course, starting in 2010 when Dokter and Misses collaborated with artist Zander Blom as part of its stand at the Joburg Art Fair. And in 2017, they exhibited concept pieces Pipe Lights and Rocking Chairs at the opening of Southern Guild’s new Cape Town space.
But it is perhaps Dokter and Misses’ ‘Practically Everywhere’ exhibition held in February this year at Southern Guild that is most significant. It was the duo’s first solo, and one of their top three career highlights so far, says Katy (the other two are being featured in ‘Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial: Beauty’ in 2015 and opening the 2017 Design Indaba). Aesthetically, it was a huge departure from the brand DNA.
Largely comprising sculptural cabinets in timber, steel and glass, the works ‘experiment with jagged shapes, odd proportions and stacked forms overlaid with textural surface treatments’, as described by Southern Guild.
Katy answers yes and no when asked whether they set out to create something completely different. ‘After seeing an exhibition of Tramp Art we were inspired aesthetically by the repetition and layering. Also, that it was a democratic art form that wasn’t elitist and that it basically represents the notion of needing to be busy resonated with us.
‘The work is sculptural and graphic and predominantly steel, which is very us. Introducing photographic elements and extending the mark making into physical elements like spikes and ceramic blobs felt like the next step in our creative development. We did however want to make something that felt very new and did this by adopting an almost cut-and-paste approach where each piece evolved on its own, independently from the other pieces.’ The exhibition will spawn a series of collectable furniture.
So how does an in-demand duo see the wood for the trees? In other words, how do they go about selecting who to collaborate with? As one of the designer-makers that work with Nando’s to create bespoke features in its casas, Katy’s response encapsulates the spirit behind all their decision-making: ‘Well, Nando’s isn’t asking us to design anything we wouldn’t ordinarily make and so working with them feels effortless. The brand exudes energy and a zest for life, they’re risk takers and keep us on our toes.’