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5 South African interior designers you need on your radar in 2024

Some extraordinary design talents are to be found in South Africa – including the winner of this year’s Andrew Martin International Design Awards

At a ceremony in Johannesburg on 7 November 2023, Cape Town-based Gregory Mellor was named International Designer of the Year. The Andrew Martin International Design Awards, now in their 27th year, remain the only global awards of their kind, and such is their standing in the industry that they’re widely dubbed the Oscars of the design world.

“My win feels like a win for all South African designers,” Cape Town-based Mellor tells Effect. “Until now, South African design has been very associated with safari lodges. As a company, we’ve done a lot of wonderful lodges but now people are seeing there’s a whole other aspect to our design.”

Every year, Martin Waller, founder and creative director of Andrew Martin, whittles more than 4,000 entries down to the 100 included in the company’s annual book, the International Design Review, which accompanies the awards. This year’s judges were comedian and actor Rob Brydon and his wife, Clare Holland. “We like judges outside the bubble of interior design,” says Waller. “We can all get caught up in the look of the moment and people working in other industries can see past that and more clearly than us so-called professionals.”

Gregory Mellor

“I loved the clean lines, the colour palette, the combination of textures and the sense of the rooms being places to live in rather than simply to admire,” says Brydon of Gregory Mellor’s work, adding: “Having said that, there was plenty of admiration, too.”

 “Judges look for somewhere they’d like to be, somewhere they’d find themselves happy in,” says Waller, “and Greg [Mellor] achieves a layered look that’s neither overdone nor an obvious African game lodge cliché, but which draws on gorgeous African textiles. I’m always looking at what luxury is and Greg gives us the very essence of the good life, sophisticated but simple.”

One of Mellor’s featured properties is the Hum House, a whitewashed cottage on a Churchhaven lagoon northwest of Cape Town. “We gave it the feel of an authentic fisherman’s cottage,” says Mellor, “and there are some similarities with a rustic Greek aesthetic – reed ceilings, scrubbed pale woodwork, stone floors and thick, whitewashed walls. It’s a similar response to a dry, rugged landscape and heat.”

Another featured property is a farmhouse, decorated in earthy tones and a calm, neutral palette. “The setting is beautiful and romantic,” says Mellor. “And for me, authenticity means being true to the building’s sense of place and context, so the neutral palette reflets the colours of the surrounding landscape.”

For a wellness retreat in Sterrekopje, an overhaul that took four years, Mellor created a layered look full of rich textures, Moroccan influences and deep colours. “Our client was well-travelled and she wanted to reflect that. People have really responded to the romance of journeys and exoticism that the look evokes. Each of the seven suites in the main farm building, a beautiful old Dutch Cape house, has different beds, antiques and palette, so it really feels like a home.”

Stephen Falcke

Stephen Falcke has long been a leading voice in South African interior design - Effect Magazine - Effetto
Stephen Falcke has long been a leading voice in South African interior design (Photo courtesy of the Andrew Martin Interior Design Review)

The award was presented to Mellor by Stephen Falcke, who was Interior Designer of the Year in 1999. Waller cites Falcke as being a great inspiration: “He revolutionised the way African tribal art and textiles can be used in crisp contemporary interiors, paving the way for a whole new appreciation for the wonder of Africa’s astonishing cultural heritage. I’ve had two design epiphanies: one was seeing the house of the late Jim Thompson, or the ‘Silk King’ in Bangkok; and then about 25 years ago, I saw Stephen’s South African home and was converted to African style. Since, I’ve travelled widely in Africa and been dazzled by the wealth of design there.”

Donald Nxumalo

Living space by South African interior designer Donald Nxumalo - Effect Magazine
South African interior designer Donald Nxumalo creates refined, luxurious spaces through his blend of textures, art, fine materials and craftsmanship (Photo courtesy of the Andrew Martin Interior Design Review)

There are three further South African designers featured in the Review. One of these is Donald Nxumalo, who tells Effect: “I grew up without access or proximity to money and power and without seeing beautiful places. Then I went to a government school housed in a Victorian building where we weren’t allowed to wear our soccer boots on the wooden floors. Suddenly, I was seeing Spanish tiles, cornices, ceiling mouldings, skirting boards.” He adds: “I realised beauty was worth preserving and protecting.”

Nxumalo put together a portfolio and gained a place at TUT (Tshwane University of Technology) in Pretoria. “The arts campus there was like being at the FAME Academy, a big defining moment for me,” says the designer. “I developed a passion for interior design.”

People want to know what a ‘black home’ looks like, but of course there’s no such thing, as it varies entirely from the city, countryside or by the ocean, just as a ‘white home’ does.

Interior designer Donald Nxumalo

Nxumalo was one of four young designers chosen to compete in a reality TV show to find the best designer. He won, and after designing furniture for a retailer, set up his own design practice three or four years later. “Coming from a mud hut as a child, I really feel there’s a lot of upward mobility in Johannesburg. Most of my clients are black. People want to know what a ‘black home’ looks like, but of course there’s no such thing, as it varies entirely from the city, countryside or by the ocean, just as a ‘white home’ does. Wealthy Africans love opulence and having beautifully made things, and are now really able to endorse a culture of craftsmanship.”


Also featured in the Review is the acclaimed multidisciplinary studio ARRCC, based in Cape Town, and comprising a large group of talented designers including Mark Rielly, Michele Rhoda, Jon Case, Nina Sierra Rubia, Quintin Gilman, Sarika Jacobs and Daniel du Toit. With a philosophy of being “delightfully surprising”, projects include the Radisson Blue Hotel in Dakar and Hotel Lumière in Paris, ski cabins in Aspen and Gstaad, luxury residential developments in Turkey and China, a retail and hotel development in California, a pharma production site in Germany and the Peninsula Store in Abu Dhabi.

Meanwhile, ARRCC designs interiors for residential properties in Marbella, Mallorca, Athens, Los Angeles, Ontario, Miami, Trinidad & Tobago, Beirut, Singapore, Sydney and São Paolo as well as in Africa. “They’re doing such contemporary stuff but really understand that what happens on the outside of any building has an impact on what you do inside it,’ says Waller.

Heidrun Diekmann

Heidrun Diekmann "brings a gardener’s sensibility and a relaxed, gentle mood to interiors," says Martin Waller, founder of Andrew Martin - Effect Magazine
Heidrun Diekmann “brings a gardener’s sensibility and a relaxed, gentle mood to interiors,” says Martin Waller, founder of Andrew Martin (Photo courtesy of the Andrew Martin Interior Design Review)

Based between Namibia and South Africa, Heidrun Diekmann offers design that aims to “evoke a sense of wonder and poetry”. Her recent interiors induce a sense of serenity and include hideaways and hermitages in the desert and by the sea. Recently, she’s been resurrecting a heritage building in South Africa’s winelands and collaborating with the botanical artist Chris van Niekerk on exhibitions in Stellenbosch and Sweden.

“Heidrun’s so different from ARRCC,” says Waller. “She has her own handwriting and philosophy and brings a gardener’s sensibility and a relaxed, gentle mood to interiors. I look at her plant-filled interiors and think, ‘I couldn’t have done this!’”

The botanical-infused interiors of South African interior designer Heidrun Diekmann – Effect Magazine
The botanical-infused interiors of Heidrun Diekmann (Photo courtesy of the Andrew Martin Interior Design Review)

Waller adds: “What’s so exciting about this year’s African entries is that none of them is constrained by the tyranny of trends dominating our view of the world. South Africa is definitely now a part of a coming wave. It’s in the fortunate position of having the rest of Africa as a neighbour, so is an absolute treasure trove of incredible things. It’s been a joy to watch it rising to become a powerhouse of design.”

Read more:  Interior Designers I Interiors | Design | AfricaAndrew Martin