Hanneke Lourens: From South Africa to The Krenov School – A Maker’s Journey to Woodworking

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Hanneke Lourens works on a Wall Hanging Cabinet, her first project at The Krenov School. (Photo: Michelle Frederick)

“My path to finding woodworking has been very zigzag and like most things in my life, I kind of just started doing it on a whim,” Hanneke Lourens, a 2020 graduate of The Krenov School, explained. “I was born and raised in South Africa, but have enjoyed living and working in other places most of my adult life. Along the way it became clear that I’m happiest when making. I have been lucky enough to explore this passion at The Krenov School.”

A part of Mendocino College, The Krenov School offers woodworking classes focused on fine cabinetmaking and furnituremaking in the tradition of renowned woodworker, author and teacher James Krenov, the founder of the prestigious school located in Fort Bragg, California.

Growing up as a child in Swellendam, South Africa, Hanneke had no inkling she would one day be creating furniture from wood – or making anything by hand for that matter.

“I feel like I grew up in a generation where being good academically was valued way above anything else. We were all encouraged to become doctors, accountants, lawyers and engineers,” Hanneke said. “No one really expected us to know how to physically make or fix anything, not in a professional capacity anyway.”

Woodworking was considered a hobby. Her grandfather turned bedside lamps for the family and created toys and games, and she said he could fix pretty much anything.

“So while I was little, my Grandpa was tinkering around in his shed, and my mum was working as a seamstress. I remember gluing blocks of wood together to make doll furniture and playing at my mom’s feet while she was sewing matching outfits for me and my three sisters,” Hanneke said. “I did a lot of ‘play-making’ but did not know that it was something that could or should be pursued as a career.”

When none of the available career options felt right, Hanneke flew to Dubai on a whim after high school graduation and worked as a waitress for a year.

“What was supposed to be a single gap year spent figuring out what I wanted to do, turned into eight years of traveling about doing all kinds of different stuff,” Hanneke said. “I’d say probably the most interesting job I had during that time was working as an underwater photographer in the Cayman Islands.”

A New World of Making Possibilities

In 2011 Hanneke moved to London to get an education in Fashion Design and Textiles at Williams College.

“Although the design aspect was fun, the most interesting part of the course for me was learning how to make things with my hands. It was extremely rewarding and empowering. And it opened a whole new world of making possibilities for me,” Hanneke said.

Clothing industry jobs in London and the US were next on her making journey.

Visa restrictions kept Hanneke from working when she first moved to the US in 2015, so she took some classes. “I dabbled in a bit of ceramics, but the woodworking classes immediately sucked me in,” Hanneke said. Laura Zahn at Allied Woodshop told her about The Krenov School, and by 2018 she was a student.

Beginner’s Luck (Photos: Todd Sorenson.)

Tiny drawer view shows dovetail joints.

“For my first project, I made a little solid wood Wall Hanging Cabinet from Ash and tried to incorporate some of the basics of cabinetmaking into it like dowelling, hanging doors, hand-cut dovetails for drawers, frame and panel back, and some sliding doors,” Hanneke said.

FD 130 Lounge Chair now for sale at a Mendocino gallery. (Photos: Todd Sorenson)

Rear view.

Project No. 2: Students are encouraged to make an already existing chair for their first chair project, so Hanneke chose the FD 130 Lounge Chair designed by Peter Hvidt and Orla Mølgaard-Nielsen, well-known Danish designers,  

“I worked from pictures on the Internet to create plans and then built this chair from Walnut,” Hanneke said. “After making a cabinet, a chair was a completely new beast and so much fun to figure out. I spent a lot of time learning about chair joinery and got very familiar with my spokeshave, of course.”

Elms and Ashes drinks cabinet – now sold. (Photos: Todd Sorenson)

Open door view.

Project 3 (second year): a Tamboured Topped Drinks Cabinet. “The techniques I wanted to familiarize myself with during this build were veneering, bent lamination, making tambours and just working on a bigger scale in general,” Hanneke explained. “I used two different types of Elm and Ash.”

Hanneke with her Wall Hanging Glass Display Cabinet. (Photos: Todd Sorenson)

COVID cut Hanneke’s second year short, but she was given the opportunity to finish her final project this spring, one that involved working with glass, a technique she had not yet explored.

“My intention was to create a cabinet that looks just as pleasing as the items it displays. With its trapezoidal shapes and slanted top and bottom, it’s deliberately unusual and hopefully intriguing,” Hanneke explained. Terraced platforms create horizontal surfaces where items can rest. She used Ash for the case and Pear for the pulls.

A closeup of the cabinet’s interior construction.

A peek through one of the end doors.

Life-Changing Experience

“I can honestly say I enjoyed every aspect of my two years spent woodworking at The Krenov School,” Hanneke said. “It’s a pretty dreamy life spending every day in an immaculately kept woodshop, with all the machines and tools your heart desires, absorbing knowledge from such talented and supportive instructors and classmates.”

Hanneke described her studies at the The Krenov School as life changing. “Not only has it given me the skills and confidence to call myself a woodworker, but it’s also given me some lifelong friends.”

In 2019 Hanneke received the $2,500 Burns-Budlong Scholarship from The Krenov Foundation.  In January 2021 she became a member of the foundation’s Board of Directors and said she looks forward to sharing different perspectives as a woman and a native of another continent.

What’s Next?

“If I’ve learned anything over the past year, it’s that plans are never really set in stone, but I do hope woodworking will continue to be a big part of my life,” Hanneke said. “I would love to keep building furniture and keep learning new skills from the people around me. I’m also excited about teaching others the joy of woodworking, so that’s an avenue I’d like to explore in the future.”

Hanneke loves South Africa and is very close to her family that still lives there – parents, grandfather, three sisters, and a “bunch of very cute nieces and nephews” – so she tries to travel home every year. She said she will probably live and work in the States for the foreseeable future, but the idea of setting up a woodshop or wood school in South Africa surfaces every once in a while.

“I’ll have to see what life brings, but wherever I am, I don’t think I’ll be able to stop these hands from making things,” Hanneke said.

Follow Hanneke on her website and Instagram.


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