Collaboration and storytelling form the basis of the design ethos for Sydney-based architecture and design studio Verhaal, which works with artisans and artists from around the world to create unique projects with inherent narratives.
Verhaal is an apt name for an architecture and design studio that prides itself on creating bespoke projects which reflect the personal narratives of their clients. It comes from studio co-founders and husband-and-wife duo Neydine Bak and Dewald Struwig’s first language, Afrikaans, and means “a well told tale – a narrative beyond literal fact,” explains Neydine. “Verhaal is a beautiful expression for the layered narratives we create for our clients and has a personal connection to our South African heritage,” she says. “It articulates the stories we aim to instil within the spaces we deliver. There is often a sense of romance and whimsy associated with the tales our clients want to tell in their spaces and our name, Verhaal, relates to that.”
Neydine and Dewald met while studying architecture at the University of Pretoria, and both went on to cut their teeth with large architectural and design firms in Johannesburg before moving to Sydney in 2015. Based at their Balmain East studio, the couple collaborates with a team of creatives from Australia and around the world, bringing together many different artistic disciplines to create their unique projects. Finding these independent creatives often comes from the serendipitous discovery of an object or artwork, which spurs a journey down the rabbit hole to find its source. “Through this process of searching, we often stumble upon other new and exciting creatives, makers, galleries and artists,” says Neydine. “Over the course of our careers, we have had the privilege of working with creative individuals who constantly inspire us to push our own creative boundaries.”
Verhaal’s scope extends from small creative studios to more established artists and makers. Some of its regular collaborators are Carpenters Workshop Gallery, Italian designer Vincenzo de Cotiis, paper artist Elonah O’Neil, glass artists Francois van de Merwe and Mike Hyam, hardware designers Mi and Gei, and ceramicist Lisa Firer. When approaching a new project, Neydine and Dewald spend a lot of time in what they call the ‘immersive’ stage, which Neydine says is an intensely engaging and exciting part of the journey during which the design concept develops. “We distill all the ideas from our design discussions into a clear conceptual direction and the creatives are vital to realise our visions for our clients,” she says. “We always revert back to the essence of what our clients have communicated in order to distill their story and bring their narrative together. This developmental stage is not linear so we go back and forth to establish where the main focus should be.”
For Neydine and Dewald, travel is an important part of understanding the different viewpoints and nuances of their clients’ stories, as well as a source of inspiration for themselves as designers. They hope to be able to journey around the world again soon, but in the meantime, their work is spread across the globe and carried out remotely. Presently, the studio is working on an eclectic range of projects, spanning from a three-storey, expansive hospitality concept for The Tashas Group; a restaurant and rooftop bar on the 17th floor of the Dorchester Collection in Dubai inspired by South American culture; and a private family villa with a sculptural spiral pool slide from SplinterWorks, overlooking the aquamarine waters of Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi. “These projects have allowed us to establish new relationships with creatives in Europe and the UK and build our presence internationally,” says Neydine.
Future plans for Verhaal involve the establishment of a Middle East office in Dubai and the launch of Huis, a home collection that is an expression of the studio’s philosophy. “We have been working with a few select artisans to develop a collection of beautiful objects that reflect who we are as storytellers and designers,” says Neydine. “Huis is a curation of meaningful pieces that reflect the preservation of craftsmanship and our innate passion for design.” This love of craft and the personal touch is what sets Verhaal apart and gives each of project a completely fresh and unique aesthetic that changes with each client and every story told.