Décor & Gardening
Art In Wood
Ben and his father, Anton, moved to the Lowveld five years ago. They had owned Cosy Bay Lodge in the greater St Lucia Wetland Park, which is where Ben became a field guide, and learnt all there was to know about nature and conservation. His father spent all of his life in the bushveld too, and they share a passion for the outdoors. Together the two of them embarked on this journey of starting The Wood Factory.
“Apart from the lodge we also had a nursery when we lived in northern KZN, and as a result I knew a lot about plants and cultivating them. We had more than 1 000 trees, including bonsai that were more than 25 years old. When I started with the woodwork, I had a head start because I already knew so much about the trees.”
At first it was small, Ben tells us. It was based out on his dad’s farm near Karino, and they mainly advertised their products online. Anton branched out into dealing with property, and the factory was moved to a 23-hectare plot on the KMI Airport Road.
“For me conservation in nature plays a major role, which is why we will never cut live trees to make our products. We make sure they are old and dead. As a youngster, I’d cut the old trees and get creative with the wood. Eventually we invested in a machine to help us cut the wood into slabs, and then we started to make dining-room tables. At first I was doing all the work myself, but now we have a really great team manufacturing the products.”
Initially all of the tables had wooden legs, but once they discovered that it made them exceptionally heavy, they partnered with Anton de Lange, who makes the legs from steel. The combination of the wood and steel is a beautiful sight to behold. Since that,
The Wood Factory has only seemed to take off, and it now manufactures a huge variety of products, from cutting boards to coat racks, and even clocks. It also provides many local lodges and hotels with furniture including headboards and restaurant tables.
Ben lets us in on a little secret; he uses Pinterest for a lot of his inspiration, and of course a giant part of his imagination too. The combination leads to gorgeous works of art that are perfect to adorn any home or business.
He goes into more detail about how they manufacture their products. The old, dead trees, which are usually removed to make way for agriculture or housing developments, are what Ben and his team use for their products. They go out to the farms and remove the debris, and then turn it into something spectacular.
“Most furniture companies don’t care; they’ll cut live trees to manufacture their products, which I find extremely unethical. We pride ourselves on being a sustainable, eco-friendly business.” The wooden wares they make are from leadwood, red ivory and matumi trees, and Ben emphasises that they are protected trees, of which he carries permits for all three. They also utilise brown ivory, jackalberry, knob thorns, silky oak and pine trees.
We don’t put too much detail into our furniture, especially our dining-room tables, as the detail in the wood is art already. With the tables, we’ll cut the slabs, sand it off, join the feet, and leave the sides rough, it’s called live edge. Simplicity is more in this case.
Ben employed a talented Zimbabwean, George, who has an avid skill for wood-carving, and creates stunning wildlife renditions for the business. He also carves them into some of the coffee tables, which make for valuable additions to the company.
The business increased in popularity over time and went as far as to reach the interest of Highveld customers. As a result, they have opened a showroom at the Bahati Centre in White River. The charming space is the perfect spot to spend hours getting lost in, with all that is on offer. Not only can you browse through all of the beautiful wooden furniture on show, but they have brought in other products such as wildlife paintings in charcoal and pastel by artists Tana and Ahmed, stunning clothing from Thailand, chairs to match the furniture, and coasters from local suppliers, among other goodies.
The Wood Factory only has six employees currently, including Ben’s brother, Rudolph and cousins, Herman and Nadine, and a slabber, Morelife. However, Ben is looking to expand the business and eventually have showrooms in Joburg and Cape Town.
With great excitement he tells us that a few years ago he rented a stall in Reno, Nevada in the USA at a convention. “We took over six coffee tables, and animal carvings, and by the second day, we were completely sold out. It’s a lengthy process to have the products exported over there, but it was so worth it. We are looking at definitely doing that again.”
Ben tells us that he is also showcasing his products at a golf day coming up at Mbombela Golf Club, and has also booked stalls at the Uplands Festival and Innibos National Arts Festival next year.
The business is currently exporting solid leadwood logs to Dubai. “We have been getting orders in from there for our wood. It doesn’t really have any, so we export it over. It’s still on a small scale you know; it’ll be six logs there, or sometimes 12, but I’m hoping it will expand.”
Another bestseller at The Wood Factory is the root coffee tables, he adds. “We cut the log of the tree off, and dig out the root, and then we sandblast it, take the outer layer of the bark off, sand it down, cut the top flat, and put a round glass top on it.
“They are incredibly popular because of how unusual they are. But in actual fact every product that we make is unique. There are no two pieces alike. “If you have one of our tables in your house, we guarantee nobody else in the world has one like that.
“The biggest satisfaction is when a client sees the product we’ve made and sold to them, and you get to see their facial expression, and they are just so pleased with it. We’ve never had an unhappy client, and we’ve never had an item returned and that’s a great feeling,” he says.
Although Ben spends much of his time at the showroom now and running the business and marketing side of The Wood Factory, he confesses that on his weekends, he still takes time to work on his own personal projects. “I’ll take a piece of grey, boring wood that is lying in the veld, and once I cut it, the colours will come out, and then I’ll transform it into something beautiful. I love that.
“My dream is to expand the company nationally first, and then eventually expand globally and get our products into the United States, Australia and Dubai.”
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