International office designers seek customised pieces says global furniture survey

by Tia

How can local designers better gear themselves to capture a larger portion of the international commercial market? While there are ever-increasing gains in retail and residential territories when it comes to export opportunities, South African furniture brands have not yet made it big in the international office design space.

Seeing undiscovered potential, and taking into account its own connection to a wide stable of international studios in 16 countries (including Brazil) and 31 offices across the globe, the South African arm of JLL subsidiary Tétris Design & Build set out to discover where local furniture stands in the global office design market and to deliver insights to local designers whose work already features in many Tétris interior fit-outs in South Africa.

The Tétris Furniture Solutions South Africa team created a capsule survey showcasing 40 items from six popular local brands with which they work: Wiid Design, Houtlander, Pedersen + Lennard, Haldane Martin, Mash. T Design Studio (showcased during Milan Design Week 2024 as part of Dolce and Gabbana’s ‘Gen D – Designer Generation’ initiative), and Dokter and Misses (available to Tétris through Southern Guild).

While the list is by no means a definitive representation of the larger South African furniture market, these brands were handpicked for their distinctive artistry. Tétris Design & Build is generally known for applying its global expertise to solve its clients’ needs. Now, in light of the continuing trend towards ‘resimercial’ office interiors which is escalating the desire for statement pieces, the team is responding to a perceived demand.

The survey, which comprised a catalogue of visuals and a series of questions, was sent to Tétris teams across Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), and Brazil. ‘While this survey provides excellent insights, the data set is not comprehensive evidence of a guaranteed international demand,’ cautions Steve Fish, Director of Tétris Furniture Solutions South Africa. ‘We are, however, optimistic about what may emerge from this knowledge-sharing exercise. If anything, we’ve put a range of extraordinary pieces before design teams who were not previously aware of them.’

Survey respondents were asked to comment on which items they would be most interested in, as well as pricing, lead times, desirability, and ability to compete with similar products in the European market. More than 50 international designers responded and their feedback revealed a clear potential demand for South African furniture, with 542 hypothetical ‘orders’ for the products showcased.

Steve Fish

Tétris’s international designers were keenly interested in the local willingness and agility to customise designs, including briefing in specific colours, materials or finishes. Most agreed that a manufacturing and shipping time of between 10 and 12 weeks for these items would be acceptable. There was a consistent thread in most feedback: the design must be unique or specific enough to justify the longer turnaround time.

Pricing sensitivity was not an issue. Highly crafted, singular and more expensive items out-performed on potential volume of sales compared to some of the others in the survey with a higher volume of less distinctive items more modestly priced. Price was less of a determining factor than uniqueness; the most expensive item on the survey garnered several positive responses.

When it came to more affordable items such as desk lamps, uniqueness once again took top prize with interesting materials and the lively interplay of shape and colour attracting more interest.

Sustainability emerged as a concern and European-based designers would rather consider feature pieces from Europe that have a lower carbon footprint.

As a guiding insight for the local industry, a key learning for future design pieces from South African manufacturers is that any pieces would need to consider carbon neutral programmes along with materials, broader community engagement and production methods to compete for business.

This does not detract from the mounting excitement around the export possibilities for South African pieces in the global office design landscape. ‘This survey confirms what Tétris already suspected about the potential of South African furniture,’ says Fish. ‘By showcasing our rich multicultural influences and continuing to make distinctive pieces, South Africa has the potential to become a major player in the global furniture market.’

The survey marks the first time a powerful international network of studios operating in the commercial office space has provided insights into the global market for local vendors. Honing in on customisation and uniqueness, the responses highlight the viability of export expansion. Increased demand for South African furniture across all sectors, not just commercial design, is hoped for as connections to international designers and buyers continue to strengthen. For more information about Tétris, follow @tetrisdesignxbuild on Instagram or visit

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