Block & Chisel

Creative SA: Block & Chisel

Last year we introduced a new blog series, Creative SA. In this series we will regularly feature South African makers.

by Marica Fick

The South African creatives we want to share with you today are very special indeed. Block & Chisel is celebrating an extraordinary milestone this year. 2017 marks the furniture and homeware company’s 30th anniversary – which is no small achievement for any business. They are one of the few local creatives who have built their business into a powerful, recognised local brand. One might even call them a furniture and decor dynasty.

We here at Design Monarchy hold Block & Chisel and their founders, Lynn & Sibley McAdam, in very high regard. The way in which they have developed and grown their product range over the decades is admirable.

The husband and wife team first began this journey after Lynn sold Biggie Best. With Lynn’s eye for beautiful pieces together with Sibley’s passion for restoring antiques and crafting fine furniture, Block & Chisel was born. The past 15 years has seen Block & Chisel welcome the McAdams’s son and daughter into the fold.

I, as a relatively “green” designer, love when Rose, who has been in the South African decorating industry for decades, enlightens me on the history of certain creatives and local design-related businesses. Block & Chisel is such a business – Rose can distinctly remember when they first opened their doors in 1987. Now 30 years later they own multiple successful shops.

Block & Chisel fills a very distinctive niche in the furniture and decorative accessories market. Their flavour is distinctly upmarket. They manage to create this delicious mix of eclectic, luxury, traditional but also contemporary, trendy yet timeless, oh-so-chic elements.

While Block & Chisel has their fingers firmly on the global interior trend pulse, they stay rooted in the company’s slightly colonial foundation which is evident in their classic French and English Country ranges.

Sibley first introduced these designs in the early years and to this day, it still forms the backbone of the Block & Chisel product range. In recent years more contemporary designs have been added. Lynn expertly accents these locally manufactured pieces with carefully chosen treasures to create an overall eclectic flair.

It is always such a treat and sensory experience to visit Block & Chisel in Diep River where we often shop and source for our clients. Not only does the showroom smell amazing, it is also filled with layer upon layer of the most beautiful furniture and decorative accessories. The showroom layout and various room settings tell such a wonderful decorative “story”.

We believe the key to Block & Chisel’s success (other than their visionary and talented owners) is longevity. Longevity, not only in their product ranges, but also in their business model. They keep evolving and reinventing to cater to their chosen market. And that is what we appreciate most about Block & Chisel.

Be sure to check out the Block & Chisel to see their full range of furniture & decorative accessories.

You can also follow Block & Chisel on FacebookInstagram, Twitter & Pinterest.

Block & Chisel: Behind the Scenes

When you walk into a retail decorating outlet such as Block & Chisel (in our case Cape Town) or any other shop that sells quality furniture, I have to wonder how many of us stop to appreciate the “behind the scenes” activities that has gone into each piece of furniture on that shop floor.

Generally, we only deal with what we see in front of us and mostly we remain unaware of the journey that some pieces have taken, from conception of the design, through production, to what you see in front of you.  I guess shopping for anything rarely requires such awareness, be it a fashion item, household item or anything for that matter. We may well be more appreciative of price points, if we did in fact shop with more awareness.

Today however, I want to share with you via this video of Block & Chisel – what happens behind the scenes in a furniture manufacturing company. Over the course of my long career in this trade, while working for furniture manufacturers, I have often been privileged to spend time on the factory floor. There is a scene in the video of a craftsman running his hands over the wooden piece.  It took me right back to my short lived term of working for Pierre Cronje. I recall standing watching him and those craftsmen ply their trade with such tender passion for wood, and the craft.  I hope you pick up on the beauty of these craftsman’s applied skills – all respect to those who work their craft behind the scenes.

“Live Life Beautifully” – add something special into your space.

P.S. Just a quick FYI… This is not a sponsored post. In fact none of our posts are sponsored. We share this and others because they add value to our appreciation of interior elements.


Q & A with the Décor Diva

To kick off our brand new Décor Diva page we thought to post a little Q & A with Rose. In future, our Ask Décor Diva section is where you can send in your design & décor problems and questions for our Décor Diva (aka Rose) to solve. You can submit your questions here – we would love to help!

Here is the Q & A with Rose recently featured in City Magazine (Rose is City Mag’s Décor Editor)…

Inside the toolbox of Rose McClement, The Design Tabloid’s own Décor Diva:

Q:  What’s the quickest way to ‘zhoozh’ up a room?

A:  There are actually 2 inexpensive ways – paint and accessories.  Look out for quality bargains with accessories.

Q:  Tell us about your worst décor disaster, and how you fixed it…

A:  I’ll tell you about a disastrous situation I encountered.  A consultation at the house of a very nice English lady left me totally gob-smacked by what I encountered.  First – the garden was littered with cats – cats everywhere – so many of them.  Then, in the dining room I could not see the floor boards – it was literally covered in books, magazines, clothes, stuff, stuff and more stuff – about 5cm deep. The furniture and the dog in the lounge was out of a scene from Dickens’s “Great Expectations”- grey, old, tattered and the dog ate ash out of the fireplace.  I had to stop myself from hotfooting it out of there, never to be seen again.  But I sat through our session and told her I would be in contact.  After much deliberation, I called her to advise my recommendation – that she needed to consider first addressing that which led to her ‘Clean House’ scenario.  I offered to assist her in collecting all the goods scattered on the floor, packing them into boxes and then moving on from there. She was very gracious and mentioned that she had elicited the help of a dear friend to assist her tackle that task first.  That was the end of that – I did not hear from her again.  But I feel sure she was sincere in her desire to move on. 

Q:  What’s the most expensive piece of furniture you’ve ever bought – for a client, and for yourself?

A:  For client: 1.60m diameter Pierre Cronje limed Ash dining room table valued at R47K.  For myself – I generally up-cycle my furniture and the valuable items I have inherited. 

Q:  As a general rule, are expensive items always of better quality?

A:  Undoubtedly – coming out of the tight economy, people are turning their Rands over a few times before spending it and hence looking for quality, not minding the spend, knowing it will last.

Q:  What’s your absolute favourite part of your work?

A:  Putting a scheme together, sourcing and researching the elements.

Q:  What makes you weak at the knees? (Beautiful fabrics, lighting, furniture?)

A:  Unquestionably, textures and colours – sometimes just looking at an image displaying good colour does it for me.

Q:  What’s the first thing you do when you begin a project? 

A:  After the brief, we jump straight into research and development, that leads onto floor layouts etc.

Q:  And the last, as you’re about to sign off? 

A:  Snagging is the last task for a project, just before slicing the cork off the champagne bottle (or the cheap bottle of wine, depending on the margins achieved).

Q:  How hard is it saying goodbye to your rooms once you’re done with them? Are they like children to you, or can you make a clean break?  

A:  When we have worked on a project from scratch, getting fully involved   is like nurturing a child to that place of release.  There are some projects that I stay attached to and others not, but it would be best to detach. 

Q:  What do you think of the makeover décor shows on TV which have become so popular? 

A:  You know some are cool and others just plain predictable.  My favourite –‘Dress my Nest’ presented by Thom Filicia (not featured lately though).  I feel that there should be far more locally produced programmes. We have not even begun to mine the depth of SA’s talented people and products.

Q:  Tell us about the most challenging project you’ve ever undertaken…

A:  The Hotel projects in Ireland, as we had to fly over every month for site visits.  Plus we took on the challenge of working long distance, including the manufacture of big ticket items to be installed in Ireland. 

Q:  The highlight of your career?    

A:  The formation of Razor Interior Design – the company I formed with my friend when we received our hotels commission.  It was an absolute dream comes true for me.

Q:  Weirdest request from a client ever? (You don’t have to name names.)  

A:  It was for the same English lady, whose boyfriend muttered as we walked into her house “are they joining the ranks of designers whose bones are scattered in the garden”.  I had to try and measure her windows for curtains, with the contents of her cupboards piled about 5cm deep on the whole floor area. It was so scary.

Q:  And your most shameful décor secret? (Eg. You still have curtains from the 1980s in your lounge.)

A:  If I tell you it won’t be a secret anymore will it? Suffice to say – the adage is: “History repeats itself” and it does in our trade. Still being here to see the return of so many trends – OMG – the secret is out: I’ve have been in the decorating trade for ages. 

Q:  What makes you good at your job?  

A:  A wealth of experience and knowledge accumulated over the years, keen eye, network of suppliers and the ability to communicate with clients and all parties.  Yada, Yada, Yada…..

Q:  Who were/are your design mentors?

A:  A great deal of my career has involved being self-taught.  Because I am a local-is-lekker person, I would say that Mr Thomas Milton and Stephanie Kux (my first bosses) were my foundational mentors.  Mr Milton transferred to me the appreciation of antique furniture. I also hold Lynn & Sibley McAdam of Block & Chisel fame, in high esteem. Lynn started Biggie Best many years ago, sold it and later teamed up with her husband (talented in woodwork) to form Block & Chisel

Q:  If you weren’t an interior designer, what would you be doing?

A:  Career wise – anything to do with communications.  That is my other passion. Someone once told me I sound like Lisa Chair, previously of Cape Talk.  They should never have said that.  It sparked my fantasy of being a talk show host.  Family wise – I would just love to be a full time Granny, because my grandchildren are simply the best.

Q:  And what’s your ‘golden nugget’ of décor advice? 

A:  Discover your authentic décor style.  Do this by collecting pictures of the interiors that appeal to you. Thereafter, survey the images again and you will find your authentic décor style emerging.  Stick with it for as long as it is around.  Remember that as you grow & evolve as a person, so will your style.  Just remain authentic. 

Q:  What’s the most important bit of advice you have ever been given? 

A:  Love what you do, and do what you love – live the inspired life.