Michael Chandler is an East-London-born Capetonian and the man behind Chandler House. Chandler House produces ceramics, decorative arts, furniture, jewellery, lighting and linen – all designed by Michael who, despite not having taken art or design as a subject at school, nutured his artistic talents through an Honours in Art History from UCT and a stint at the prestigious Fine and Decorative Arts Auction House, Stephan Welz Sotheby’s. I visited his work space to see where the magic happens and to chat about art, love, design, culture, astrology and aesthetics.
Hi Michael. What’s your star sign? I have four planets in fiery, child-of-the-Zodiac Aries (Sun, Rising, Mercury, Venus) and a Piscean Moon (read: imagination, creative, emotional sponge, also – faintly psychic).
What is your design process like? I get an idea and then jot it down in one of my notebooks before it slips away. I think about it and turn the idea around through sketches and then I find the most wonderful craftsmen and craftswomen in Cape Town to help me materialize it. We will change it accordingly after meeting the piece for the first time. Sometimes it needs a few versions until it comes right.
How does the time you spent at Sotheby’s inform your work? Working at Sotheby’s was essentially a crash-course in design over the past 400 years. I handled objects of beauty which have not only lasted in a material sense for four centuries, but also objects who’s allure has endured into the 21st century. I think it has developed and tuned my eye for successful design.
You’re quite the collector. Can you tell us about a few of your collections? I am the quintessential magpie. I collect ceramic budgerigars, tombstone fragments, 1950s Paint-by-Numbers paintings, dead butterflies, books on Astronomy, playing cards that I find in the street and most recently swizzle sticks. I find that collecting sharpens one’s eye. If you are a collector of something you are always looking a little harder at your environment – you never know when or where you’ll find the jewel-in-the-crown-of-your-
Who are your favourite young South African artists? Morne Visage, Rodane Hart, Ian Grose, Michael Taylor, Georgina Gratix and Daniella Mooney.
We spoke a lot about the “residue of culture” what does this mean and how does it influence your work? The ‘residue of culture’ is a term I have recently come up with to describe the often unnoticed or subtle characteristics that form part of the greater whole of an object. If you look at Cape Dutch furniture for example, you will see a European design that was usually made in Cape Town with local woods, but by foreign slave craftsmen. These carpenters had likely never seen an Acanthus leaf before and thus their interpretation of it would be slightly Eastern and slightly different to a standard European version. In essence, the residue of the carver’s aesthetic culture can be found in the very fine details of the cabinet. You can see that it is not European, despite its strict adherence to design, proportion, construction, ornamentation, etc. Similarly a piece I will make today will be informed by the very hands which make it. This is why I am very passionate about hand-made pieces and surrendering to the honest flaws that accompany such objects. There are exceptions of course.
What can we expect from Chandler House in the future? I dream about designing living spaces. I would really love to have a go at a Cafe or a Cottage by the sea. I will keep on breathing life into sketched ideas, I get enormous pleasure from this. Chandler House is a lovely metaphor for me. I hope to design homes, and rooms within homes and objects that may rest or be used in these rooms. I hope to share these metaphoric rooms with the people I love.