Inside the shared workspace of the team behind furniture company Il Toro Kraft
Words by Dylan Muhlenberg | Photography by Nick Gordon
Working from a shared office space on the first floor of a six-storey warehouse in Woodstock, Il Toro occupies a portion of the 200 square metres of open-plan, double-volume, industrial space bathed in light and filled with the steel-frame furniture that the duo make.
Sharing with a CMT, a web designer, an illustrator, a contemporary African fashion designer and a jewellery designer (Portuur, Kuberfirma, Call Me Ishmael, Imprint and Inkbank), the duo behind Il Toro loves the practicality of their space with its raw concrete floors, wide stairwells and a spacious service lift that can accommodate even their biggest creations. (A boardroom table once required eight men to carry the top).
This is a pretty space, sure, but it’s not so pretty that you can’t roll up your sleeves and work until the sweat beads at your brow.
“We started with pallet furniture and that was interesting,” says Diane Gina, the self-described “practical half” of the Il Toro team. “After that I started working in shared spaces and needed a desk so I made my own and loved the process.”
Daniella Lubbe, a qualified architect, is the other half of the team and since their first desk has come up with designs for boardroom tables, shelving solutions, coffee tables, consoles, dining room tables, side-units and then custom pieces like the island in the middle of their office, a sort of workbench with wheels, that Diane works on.
“We’re constantly helping each other out and that’s the nice thing about a shared space,” says Daniella. “Everyone in the building is creative. We feel really at home here.” Diane adds how everyone feeds off of the other’s energy, and “…working so closely to such creative people makes you want to be more creative. It’s inspiring, and we also share things like suppliers, resources and knowledge. It’s good to be able to get advice on certain things, or barter goods and services. Obviously when we get new tools we like to show them off. That’s probably the best part – showing off new tools.”
Across the road from Il Toro’s office in Tollgate Industrial Centre is the newly developed Mason’s Press, which is good for coffees, lunches and socialising with some of the other creatives who work in the area. Because Diane and Daniella live up the road in Woodstock they’re able to walk to work. However, since they’re transporting their product to and from their workshop in Woodstock and powder coaters in Paarden Eiland, they mostly drive. Their suppliers and the people that they outsource to are all in the neighbourhood as Il Toro likes to keep everything as close as possible, saying that it’s important to form first-hand relationships with the people that they work with.
These relationships are important, and Diane was recently able to ditch her baker's apron and make something more suited to the type of work she does by using leather from one of the footwear manufacturers who work in Woodstock. Diane hopes that the company’s delivery vehicle will be the next upgrade, and dreams of owning a bakkie so that she doesn’t have to transport everything on her roof racks.
Having worked in production, and still freelancing for the film industry in season, Diane’s all about making a plan and coming up with solutions to problems. She feels that this, and growing up with a dad who had a workshop at home, was the perfect training for running a business.
“My dad worked in maintenance and I spent a lot of time in his workshop,” says Diane. “I would’ve loved to have gone to a technical high school, like where my brother studied, but there were only six girls in that school and my mom didn’t like that. My brother builds and restores beautiful motorbikes now and had I gone there I think I would’ve started making furniture a lot earlier. I think that women are underestimated in this line of work, so it’s important that you know exactly what you’re doing, and are confident in what you do. We’re getting there though, and a lot more women are being empowered.”
Daniella got into furniture design when she had to make a base for her final year architectural model, and began to experiment with lightweight steel structures instead of the chunky wooden boxes that were the norm.
“It grew from that into desks and then boardroom tables and now we’re here,” says Daniella. “I still practice architecture every day, it’s my profession, and the furniture is a way to flex my creativity. It can get frustrating dealing with clients and budgets and contracts where with furniture you can just let go and that’s really rewarding.”
Working on a third prototype of a new product that will be available to shop on Superbalist, Daniella interacts with the steel box, opening and closing the door, picking it up and putting it on its side before placing it upright again. The idea here is to make something where the customer can buy as many as they need and then stack them alongside one another, adding more when needed. Because steel is heavy, and this is an item that needs to be delivered to you at your home, Il Toro spends plenty of time in R&D.
“We like working with natural, raw products,” says Daniella. “Steel is very honest. Very truthful. We don’t try to hide anything. Yes, we powder coat to protect the steel, otherwise we try and keep everything as raw as possible. Imperfections bother some people, but not us – we want you to see that robots didn’t do this, that people did.”
Aiming to create beautiful and cost-effective pieces that their clients can live with forever, Il Toro’s biggest reward is when they’re able to change someone’s life with something that they’ve created. Like the client who contacted Il Toro complaining how his small kitchen couldn’t even fit a fridge and that this was causing marital problems.
“We went in there, did some small, practical changes, rearranged the kitchen and made the small space work,” says Diane. “That’s the sort of stuff we love doing, especially if you’re given the freedom to come up with our own ideas.”
Their next custom design challenge is an office where they’ve been given free rein with everything from the kitchen to the desks. The pair behind this project are quick to say that there’s nothing glamorous about what they do, and essentially they spend their days buying steel, wood and other supplies, before locking themselves into 12-hour days spent in workshops where they cut, weld and powder coat.
There's great satisfaction in making things that serve others. Il Toro’s problem-solving and DIY approach to has resulted in solutions in their own space, such as an infinity curve and backdrop that they and their neighbours shoot their products against, as well as a clever rope divider that demarcates a section of the office. “I love the permeability of this,” says Diane, interacting with the piece. “It doesn’t block any of the natural light and it’s just some boat rope that we bought from a boat shop.”
Christening every creation with a female name, Il Toro feel that this creates a contrast between what’s rather masculine furniture with much more feminine titles.
“We called these units Patsy and Edina,” says Daniella. “Because they work so nicely together. My desk is Sylvia. It’s special naming things and sometimes we’ll take a while with the name because it’s like naming a child."
Il Toro has been in their space for a year and a half now, and say that they only got serious last year December after what was a hobby started to get more of their time and effort until it became a business. “If you love something as much as we love this, you can’t let go,” says Diane.
“We’re businesswomen first,” says Daniella. “It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, first thing you need to do is manage your books and make sure that you make a profit to sustain itself. We started the business with no investor, basically from scratch, which was a good thing for us, as we are now involved in every aspect of the products, projects, accounts, clients, and by doing so, you feel more in control of your business. Furthermore, how you spend your time becomes very important, as your time is that much more valuable. You need to make sure that it’s worth it at the end of the day, for everybody involved, which is a process, but it’s picking up really quickly and has been amazing.”
Like the furniture that they make, marrying wood with steel to come up with a structure that’s greater than the sum of its parts, Diane and Daniella work together as one, the tangible sweat from their labour culminating in objects of desire that solve problems pragmatically while uplifting the spaces that they inhabit aesthetically.