It is time that we drop the word ‘waste’ from our dictionaries. That’s where you find this noun explained as ‘squandering and careless spending’, relating also to the verb’s meaning of ‘expending needlessly and destroying completely.’ I believe that one day the past 100 years will be known as the Era of Waste –and our grandchildren will live to tell the tale of our awakening.
Are we discarding our own future? This culture of über consumption is threatening life on earth. The good news is that the transition to a green economy is escalating now – and today we meet a green brother who is able to look creatively at what our society regards as waste, and create beautiful, functional items from throwaway items.
Meet Jan Vingerhoets, who grew up in Cape Town. After working for years on oil rigs, he immigrated to the USA, where he started an IT company. In California South-Africans get together regularly in what’s called Springbok Club events and that was where he met his wife Sue, who worked as an au pair and hails from KwaZulu-Natal.
Wild horses graze fynbos
Jan and Sue now own Foxglove farm, a pristine piece of land in the mountains near Riversdale, where wild horses graze on natural fynbos and inhale fresh mountain air. No sign of monoculture croplands with sprays burning your throat.
“In essence my wife and I have re-invented ourselves. We now live on an organic farm, are struggling towards being off-grid, and I have turned my hobby into an income stream: recycling “thrown away” wood, stone and metal into heirloom furniture and fittings, using only solid wood and natural paints and wood finishes.”
We were lucky enough to spend a weekend in their beautiful stone guest cottage on the farm slopes facing the Paardeberg, barred from the surrounding veld simply to keep the wild horses from sniffing you awake.
from waste to beautiful furniture
Jan salvages anything discarded – items from dumps, collapsed trees, junk piles on farms. Shocked to discover the huge piles of waste left behind by our modern lifestyle, he developed the ability to see something new and meaningful inside. Then he brings that to life, sometimes combining different bits and pieces to form a new and functional whole.
“This is not about boring old furniture. It’s about seeing what the salvaged materials could become, with the application of an artistic eye, calloused hand and (slightly) warped mind. Could be a table, could be a pillar, could just be a thing.”
“I give new life to discarded wood, metal, stone and glass. Then I finish it with natural or recycled paints and finishes.” In the end he delivers truly unique, heirloom pieces.
Keeping toxins out of the environment
Jan sticks to natural finishes wherever he can and uses the excellent ProNature line of locally produced natural paints and finishes from Envirotouch in Cape Town. But if he finds conventional petroleum-based paints and finishes heading to the landfill, he will use them too.
“At least we know we’ve dealt with them in a responsible way, rather than allowing them to be dumped to leach into the groundwater. We also only use solid wood, not MDF, chipboard or the like as we know that they give off unpleasant and illness-generating chemicals for a long, long time.”
Unique handmade heirlooms are like new creatures emerging from the old. As they use only recovered materials, no one piece can or will be exactly like any other, and things are not perfectly machined. They have character and carry with them the scars of their origins.
beloved pieces for following generations
Each piece of furniture is built very strong, with classic proportions and designs. Since they are already aged by virtue of the materials used, the idea is that they become beloved pieces that are passed on to following generations. Each piece is identified as a unique ReDeux work by a copper label embossed with their logo.
Jan’s new mission is to begin to use the vast amounts of metal they have found on both their farm and the surrounding farms. This should keep him busy for a very long time.
“Conventional farmers don’t seem to see the value of their old implements. I suppose the throw-away mentality is telling when you see all the spraying and dipping going on around here,” writes Sue.
Meet organic farmer Sue
While Jan turns junk into durable furniture his wife Sue and their five year old son Max grow anything you can think of in their very active organic food and herb garden, and a plant nursery. She captures seeds for the heirloom seed market.
Sue also supplies fresh fruit and vegetables to Wild for their organic deliveries and Organic Zone in Muizenberg. They have also started an alliance with Bennie Niemand from George for him to use some of their products in this boxes and the Outeniqua Market opposite the George Mall.
I asked Sue what she’s growing now and what produce will be available over the next few weeks.
“Coming up soon will be Pink and White Egyptian garlic. Also well on their way are the strawberries, but we will keep them local as they won’t travel well. Obviously lots of preserves will come out of this crop too.
Order heirloom seeds and nursery products
“As far as seeds go, my seeds are available through Living Seeds or with our weekly boxes. Our nursery products can be ordered weekly too – from wattle bark mulch to your own strawberry and asparagus plants.
After the weekend I brought home some strong granadilla and strawberry plants raised by Sue. They are growing happily in our garden and we look forward to some yummy fruit this summer.
What has Jan been creating lately?
“Since it is not so cold in the evenings anymore, Jan is working until 10pm most nights to complete a commission of 3 doors similar to the Sunrise door on the website. Finding old wood to recycle has been challenging- it seems winter saw most scrap wood burnt, but we have reclaimed enough to get the job done. He also completed a wonderful server of teak, oregon pine door frames and a piece of terrazzo from the Hillbrow apartments. Boy, that is well-travelled terrazzo!”