Johannesburg - Travelling with home decor expert Chris Weylandt must be exciting, but probably rather exhausting.
There would be precious little time spent on the beach or lazing by the pool. Instead he’d be ferreting around in the markets, negotiating with bicycle-riding basket salesmen, or using sign language to get material vendors to take him to their leader.
He is a professional globetrotter, constantly travelling the world to source items for his company, Weylandts.
As the managing director, he steers its taste towards natural materials, true craftsmanship and often a quirky touch that makes a piece stand out.
There’s nowhere he won’t go in the quest for originality.
“The Weylandts brand is built on a respect for natural materials and a strong design ethos,” he says.
“The brand is evolving and innovating on an ongoing basis, which requires a continual search for new products and ideas. We travel to places we feel will provide us with inspiration and where we can work with local artisans to achieve our vision.”
One of his favourite destinations is India, which he sees as bursting with inspiration. “The strong artisan traditions and creative culture, combined with the frenetic energy of a billion-plus population and a booming economy, are intoxicating.”
One of Weylandt’s most popular innovations, perhaps, was to take somebody else’s rubbish and turn it into a thing of fresh usefulness and beauty.
“We gave new life to discarded doors from India by designing raw steel bases and converting them into contemporary coffee tables,” he says. “Our range of organic dining and coffee tables have also become iconic pieces and are extremely popular.”
Indonesia is another rich source of decor gems, where he often commissions the craftsmen to produce items that he or his team have designed.
Other great finds were antique chairs from China, where he bypassed the main cities to visit a place close to one of the most revered mountains of Taoism in the province of Shandong. The chairs were shaped by hand and have grown old gracefully through generations of faithful service, Weylandt says.
Chairs are not just chairs, he believes, but can help to create a place of sanctuary and seclusion.
A rocking chair inspired him to write: “It’s only human to secure a space where you know you can relax, reflect; a space to rest. Perhaps your sanctuary is a cabin in the woods, your country home or family beach cottage with that one spot you can always rely on for comfort.
“Then again, your retreat could also be in your study, that corner that is not about work. Here you are able to rock away your troubles, reminisce, or just close your eyes for a few minutes and soak up the silence.”
His chain of stores is also selling colourful baskets that are vivid reminders of his travels in Vietnam last year.
“Entering into the sprawling markets of places like Hoi An and Hanoi sets the senses alight. The colours, the smells, the noisy natter of bargaining filling the air,” he wrote on his blog after the expedition.
“Vivid green bunches of bok choy still encrusted with fresh dirt hang from the stalls. Ruby red tomatoes piled high in woven baskets. The essence of the Vietnamese market place caught somewhere between the energy of a modern frantic city and the romantic tradition of the old world market place.”
Although the current black and white outdoor collection was influenced by designs strutting the fashion catwalks, Weylandt prefers to take a chance in introducing a style or a theme that he likes and hoping it will catch on, rather than following someone else’s lead.
“We prefer to set direction rather than follow trends. I’ve always relied on my gut instinct and it has yet to prove me wrong,” he says.
This winter, his gut feeling has led him back to the enduring theme of black and white for a new, edgy range of outdoor furniture. This is no minimalistic monochrome look, however. Tribal prints are combined with large gingham checks to create striking colour block contrasts.
They’re designed with an unapologetic statement of “more is more” rather than any meek and subtle “less is more” approach. Weylandt tracked down the furniture in Indonesia, where it is handwoven out of poly rattan and stretched over aluminium frames.
Weylandts began as a traditional furniture manufacturer in Windhoek founded by Chris’s father, Edgar Weylandt, in 1964. It originally blended Scandinavian design with an African heart. Now the styles blur geographical boundaries and are sourced from designers and craftsmen around the world.
The first store was opened in the year that Chris was born, and he and his older brother, Thomas, began to expand the business into South Africa. His first overseas mission to source products took him to Indonesia, where he found craftsmen who agreed to design and manufacture items for him.
“We’ve been in this business a long time and have built up a significant supplier base, which has allowed us to work closely with suppliers to produce products that reflect our signature look,” he says.
“We’re continually innovating and creating, while retaining the integrity of materials and keeping handmade skills alive. We strive to curate a look that is made up of product sourced from around the world and which celebrates artisanal skills and highlights design and ergonomics.”
Logistics have become a big part of the business, with the company needing to source or produce enough items to stock two outlets in Cape Town, two in Joburg, one each in Pretoria, Knysna and Mhlanga, two in Namibia and a new store in Melbourne, Australia. Years of experience have the logistics down to a fine art.
So far his tastes have proved reliable, Weylandt says. “We buy only what feels right and what we relate to. There has to be an instinctive and immediate connection with a product.”
Many of us bring back souvenirs from our own travels, then end up tucking them away in a cupboard because they just don’t work with the rest of our furnishings.
Like a colourful woven blanket bought with delight in Brazil that never quite looked right as a wall hanging. Or a tiny glass tea set used to serve mint tea in Cairo, but which looks too delicate in a modern lounge.
But perhaps we should all catch some of Weylandt’s enthusiasm, dig out our neglected treasures and become more decoratively daring.