Southern Guild Gallery in Woodstock

PHOTOS Micky Hoyle PRODUCTION Sumien Brink WORDS Malibongwe Tyilo

Work by some of our best artists and designers has found a new home: the Southern Guild Gallery in Woodstock.

No one who knew the Cape Town suburb of Woodstock a decade ago would deny the changes that have taken place in the area in the 10 years since. Streets in which businesses feared to trade have turned into hubs of creative activity, attracting a wide range of retailers, restaurants, designers, artists and art galleries.

During this decade, husband-and-wife team Julian and Trevyn McGowan built a business that has grown to be the authority on local original design. In November 2014, their business opened its first permanent home, the Southern Guild Gallery, in Lewin Street, Woodstock.

“We moved to Cape Town after living in Wilderness for 11 years,” says Trevyn. “We were looking for an office when Julian spotted this space. All that was here was a warehouse with cracked concrete. We thought, okay, maybe we can put the office in; then one thing led to another and, just like that, we were opening a permanent gallery. It’s something we’ve talked about for ages, obviously, but we always thought it would be in Joburg.”

For the gallery opening, the McGowans hosted Home-coming, an exhibition of limited-edition works by top designers and artists. At the gallery’s front window, guests were greeted by a tableau of Justine Mahoney sculptures. A little further in, across from a Koop Design Linen-fold table, David Krynauw’s Haywire black ash chandelier lit up artist Michael MacGarry’s human bone chopsticks (Amicus Curiae). All around, design and art lived in harmony.

Looking at the works in the gallery’s 280m2 space with the white walls and high ceilings, it’s easy to forget what it looked like just a few months before. In fact, one might even forget that South African design lacked representation at the world’s top design fairs before Trevyn and Julian started Southern Guild.

“I’m from Johannesburg originally,” says Trevyn, “and I went to live in London in the early ’80s. I spent 22 years there, and that’s where Julian and I met. I’d started a design consultancy, and it was through buying South African products for clients that I saw the need for people internationally to have access to South African work.”

It was after they moved back to South Africa in 2003 that the pair founded their first company, Source, which connected South African suppliers to international clients, including The Conran Shop. “The person who worked with me at The Conran Shop introduced me to American retailer Anthropologie, and within five years we were supplying them, Restoration Hardware, Bergdorf Goodman, Jamie Oliver and others. It really exploded.

“We soon had a database of about 500 suppliers, and it was through working at that retail commercial level that we realised a platform was needed for limited-edition collectible design. So, in 2008, we launched Southern Guild for designers who are producing pieces too big, too expensive or too limited to fit into a retail kind of model .”

Southern Guild now shows South African design at five of the most important design fairs around the world. Last year, the pair also launched GUILD, Africa’s first international design fair in Cape Town, to which they invited some of the world’s best collectible-design galleries. February 2015 will see them host it for the second time, where together with the designers they will continue to write the story of South African design.

“We’re interested in the idea of openness and sharing; through sharing far richer things come,” says Trevyn. “We view what we do as collaboration – with our designers and with the retailers we work with. Collaboration is about ultimate openness and allowing yourself to be challenged.”

Find out how you can book your spot at the VISI Great Spaces tour of this fantastic space.