The ‘House Numbers’ Project

WORDS Lynette Botha PHOTOS Michael Chandler

Celebrated Cape Town ceramicist, curator and all-round creative Michael Chandler has taken it upon himself to beautify and unify his neighbourhood by offering hand-painted and fired address signs to any residents who’d like one – for free.

Michael’s spontaneous new ‘House Numbers’ project – which he launched on Instagram in October – comes a year and a half after he moved into the Mother City’s vibrant and historically rich BoKaap.

“When I bought my home, I was unable to paint it or make any changes as the sale hadn’t gone through. I was so keen to do something as a sign of ownership that I sommer just stuck up a little panel of tiles with the number of the house and the street’s name on the facade without asking the sellers. With time, I began to meet neighbours and we got chatting and I asked if they wanted one themselves as quite a few houses don’t have numbers on their walls. Word spread and slowly, slowly, they began popping up in the neighbourhood.”

READ MORE: Bosjes ‘Tree of Life’ Mural by Michael Chandler

“I have met many of my neighbours and I have to say they have been incredibly warm and welcoming. In the past I have traded these tiles for bags of frozen, home-made pies, jars of honey and even an insider’s tour of the BoKaap!”

The idea for the ‘House Numbers’ project came about after an Instagram follower recently mentioned to Michael that that she had moved into the neighbourhood and as a welcoming gesture, he offered to paint her house number. “On the day that I installed her tiles, I was installing another and I thought, ‘Let’s tap into the Instagram web and see what happens.’ Well, careful what you wish for. Haha! Let’s just say that there has been tremendous interest from the neighbours as well as people from Europe and America. It’s been wild!”

The House Numbers Project by Michael Chandler

Painting on high-quality porcelain tiles that are made locally by hand – each one slightly irregular and very tactile – Michael starts by setting out six tiles in two rows of three and sketching out the text to get the balance and spacing right.

“I also inspect the tiles for major flaws that might become an issue in the firing. Once this is all done, I paint the design with cobalt oxide. The tiles later get glazed and fired in Blackheath Industria and once I receive them back I install them using a wonderful adhesive called Sticks like Sh*t. I’m not making this up… ha!”

READ MORE: Tiled Mural by Michael Chandler

Michael is currently booked up with paid-for commissions until November 2023 and so he will be fitting in these requests when he has a gap. “I want to do this on my terms so that I enjoy it – which will enable me to continue to work on this project for as long as possible,” he says.

“I live on Chiappini Street, which was named after an Italian physician who immigrated to the Cape in the 18th/19th century. He was so loved by the locals that they named the street after him,” explains Michael. “It struck me that this road is a monument to kindness and I thought – heck, we all need to be kinder. We all have super human powers to make the world a better place. And painting tiles is perhaps mine. By repute Antonio Chiappini lived in the house that I call home. My neighbours and I take turns sweeping the street. And I like to think that a loved street is a happier and safer one. Perhaps someone reading this will feel inspired to do something to make their little corner of the world a better place.”

If you live in the BoKaap, Michael wants to offer you a little house number panel for free. If you know where he lives, pop your address in his post box and when he has the time, he will make it and install it. You can also get in touch with Michael via Instagram @michaelchandlerceramics.

“If you live outside of the BoKaap community, you can still order house numbers! The panel of six costs R1200 and all the profits will go towards the tiles that I create for my fellow neighbours. By ordering tiles you can be a part of this project and help make Cape Town even more special than it already is. And remember, I only work in blue and white.”

Visit or follow Michael on Instagram.

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