The story of a chair

Chris Weylandt returns to Namibia, with his father’s beloved chair in tow, on a journey to rediscover and explore the roots of one of South Africa’s most loved furniture and interior brands

Film by Lebogang Rasethaba  Production by Arcade Content in association with Weylandts  

In existence for more than five decades, the Weylandts we know today is still rooted in the design principles that have moulded it since 1964. In the same year that Edgar Weylandt launched the first Weylandts store in Windhoek, Namibia, his son Chris was born. Coincidental? Likely. But from 1990, Chris began his journey towards becoming the custodian of this legacy interior brand and over the last 20 years has grown it into what it is today: South Africa’s leading furniture and homeware retailer, with 11 stores nationwide.

‘My father had a passion for good design and craftmanship, and we remain connected to that,’ says Chris, Weylandts CEO. ‘He was so particular about quality materials and meticulous woodwork and finishes. Our products are still ingrained with these values and my dad’s love of simplicity and design – that’s what makes our pieces timeless.

Besides our incredible growth over the years, we’ve evolved in terms of our offering. Where my dad imported and sold furniture, we now design our own ranges of furniture and homeware, and apart from working with artisans around the world, we manufacture a significant amount of product ourselves in our in-house factories in South Africa.’ Chris and his core team – made up of his life partner, Kim Smith, and three of their four children – regularly travel together on sourcing trips around the globe, eager to uncover artisans and crafters who have mastered ancient carpentry. ‘We travel widely and tend to focus on lesser-known territories,’ continues Chris. ‘We have formed long-lasting relationships with suppliers in many parts of the world. For us it’s about heroing artisanal, handmade products and traditional skills in a contemporary way.’

The Weylandts team, along with photographer, Anke Loots, travelled to Namibia, the birthplace of the brand, to explore and capture various terrain for their latest brand campaign. For this shoot, they took along a chair belonging to Chris’s father. ‘It’s a reminder of where I have come from and the environment that has made me into who I am. I remember making the long journey by road from Windhoek to Walvis Bay to collect this chair with my father’, says Chris.

When asked what non-negotiable boxes need to be ticked for an item to be ‘Weylandts approved’, Chris says, ‘We spend a lot of time in factories and are always close to the production process. Design is key – and good design leads to longevity and therefore sustainability. A respect for materiality is a non-negotiable for us. We prefer simple, honest products where handcraft is celebrated and where it reflects the regional traditions and skills.’

For their recent brand campaign, Chris and the team travelled back to Namibia, where Chris was born and where Weylandts originated, to capture the story of the brand’s roots. ‘I strongly believe that our environments shape us, and I want people to understand where my design philosophy comes from. It’s all about storytelling,’ he explains. ‘We shot alongside the ocean, in the mountains, in the desert dunes. When we say that Weylandts is “inspired by nature”, we really mean it. When I think of good design, I think of the constant movement of the ocean and its sense of energy; I think of the textures and shapes and scale and colours of the giant boulders that used to be my playground as a kid; I think of how the dunes have been formed over millions of years and are the perfect design. The time, patience and perseverance one finds in nature’s creation is what really inspires me – this is what results in an incredible end product. There’s a lot of humility in that.’

‘My father had a passion for good design and craftmanship, and we remain connected to that’ – Chris Weylandt, CEO of Weylandts

Adding to the significance and nostalgia of the shoot, the team took two of Chris’s father’s old chairs along. One is reupholstered with only the original seat cushions showing the passage of time. ‘They illustrate everything I’ve just mentioned – the timelessness of good design. One of these chairs stands in my office. It’s a reminder of where I have come from and the environment that has made me into who I am. I remember making the long journey by road from Windhoek to Walvis Bay to collect this chair with my father – it came all the way from Brazil in a crate – the days before shipping containers! I love its technical complexity, the mix of materials – rope, timber and leather – the incredible craftsmanship…. That’s why it is an icon. It meant a lot to my father and represents his vision and passion, and it underpins what’s important to me while building our brand.’

And speaking of building the brand, Chris continues, ‘This year we invested heavily in upgrading and increasing the size of our distribution centre and focused on improving our production facilities with the latest machinery to ensure we can meet increased demands and quality standards. We are proud to be manufacturing locally, with an incredible team of talented individuals. Many of our warehouse staff have been with us from the early days and it’s very rewarding to develop their skills and see them move up the ranks.’ Weylandts has and always will be a family brand; ‘My family is everything to me – and to be able to do what we do together is adream!’

Photography by Anke Loots  Production by Weylandts

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