The limited-edition Robben Island Coffee Table, designed by Shift Perspective

Striking and evocative, tables that blend wooden elements with a blue-tinted resin make you feel like you’re gazing at the sea. With the pale wood tones standing in for sand and seaside rocks, the resin appears lighter when it’s poured in a shallow layer and darker as it gets thicker for a realistic watery effect.

Design firm Shift Perspective takes a unique approach to this technique. Slices of shaped plywood are stacked on top of each other to form the topography of a specific place that’s highly relevant to the history of the studio’s home, South Africa. Called “Robben Island” after the land mass it depicts, the coffee table aims to give us an idea of just how remote and isolated the famous prison where Nelson Mandela was held really is.

The inscription featured on the Robben Island Coffee Table
The carved wood detail used to create the Robben Island Coffee Table's many contours
Close-up of the resin used to make the Robben Island Coffee Table.

The company explains: “The island itself is secluded from the mainland and served as a medium and maximum security facility during the Apartheid regime. Political prisoners of Apartheid were held here until the facility closed in 1991. After his release, Nelson Mandela went on to become the first president of the Republic of South Africa and remains an iconic revolutionist to this day. Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years imprisonment in the Robben Island prison. That’s why we’re only producing 18 tables to commemorate each year that Mandela spent on Robben Island.”

The table creates a sculptural map of Robben Island and the sea floor around it, with engravings on the little wooden “island” marking the location of the prison and other landmarks. It might be hard to discern the scale of the island if not for a cool addition: three tiny sterling silver ships, which can be moved around on the surface. When a light shines onto the table from overhead, the ships cast a deep shadow in the “water.”

A tiny sterling silver ship featured on the Robben Island Coffee Table

Based in Cape Town, Shift Perspective was born when founder Ollie de Wit started designing and making his own furniture as a hobby in 2013. Indeed, Ollie takes an experimental approach that usually pays off. While he often collaborates with expert craftspeople to manufacture his designs, sometimes it’s hard to find people who know exactly how to bring his vision to life.

Close-up of the resin used to make the Robben Island Coffee Table.

In the case of the Robben Island Table, Ollie realized he’d have to take on the production of the table himself, despite the fact that he’d never worked with resin before.

“This can be a daunting task, as we have to learn something we know nothing about with hours of researching followed by hours of trial and error. We partnered with professionals every step we could, but could not find any professionals that could cast resin onto wood. We took this part of the manufacturing process onto ourselves, which took two and a half years of trial and error.”

With an end result this beautiful, it’s safe to say that effort was definitely worthwhile.

The limited-edition Robben Island Coffee Table, designed by Shift Perspective

Loving the look of this aquatic resin and wood table? Check out “Lagoon 55,” a beautiful custom piece by designer Alexandre Chapelin of La Table, in which textural sand-colored marble dotted with natural pits and holes mimics the look of a real coastline.