During my extended stay in Florence, Italy, in 2000 and 2001, I became a Medici “groupie” while studying the Italian Renaissance. At the time, little did I know that one day I would find myself standing at the door of such a movement in my country of birth, South Africa.
Upon my return to the U.S. in August of that same year, a friend of mine in Los Angeles with a very successful home furnishing store asked if I would consider going to South Africa to explore the prospects of finding a new look for her store.
I had no experience in this field; however I packed my bags, and set forth on a talent hunting expedition. Once embarked on this journey, I never looked back, for I found a renewed “kinder spirit” in South Africa and its people, known as the "rainbow nation". What I found at the end of this rainbow was a pot of gold, and it was not the kind of gold we are most known for. This was a melting pot of untapped creative talent; finally I had my opportunity to give back to Africa.
This is how I became a “talent scout” in Africa and created my business, Phases Africa, in 2001. I have been observing the continuing growth of this creative movement, called the “African Renaissance, “so coined by former South African president, Thabo Mbeki
I source my products all over Africa, literally as far as Timbuktu, where I buy from the Tuareg people, who are nomads living in the desert. These artisans work with goat skin leather and use an ancient technique in tooling the leather.
South African safari lodges and hotels customarily only use African products and have been consistently rated amongst the world’s top hundred hotels, in the most prestigious of publications year after year. Phases Africa obtains their products directly from the artisans responsible for the interiors of these luxurious hotels.
I love being surrounded by conversation pieces; when I sit in one of my genuine ostrich skin wing back chairs, and look at my living space, every single piece has a story to tell. I see my Yellow Jarrah chateau dining room set, made from the original rail-wood sleepers, used to link countries in Africa at the turn of the 19th century. One of a kind contemporary ceramics are all over my dining and living room, an amazing collection from several of South Africa’s most famous ceramists. Telephone wire baskets from the Zulu tribe are donning my walls. A dogon hand carved door from Mali blended with Panga Panga timber (another rail-wood) was turned into a stunning custom made cabinet where I house all my fine African table ware.
Owning something as significant as a piece of Africa’s history probably makes my rail-wood one of my more treasured furniture lines. Above my Yellow Jarrah table, I have a 3 ring Ostrich egg chandelier. Then behind my dining room table -- up against the wall overlooking my dinner guests, are two six feet tall “musicians”, hand carved from palm fronds. One is holding a flute, the other a violin. These six foot tall ladies are a limited edition and signed by the artist, who resides in the Natal region of South Africa. I would have to say that this artist just blew me away with her talent. It’s the most unusual item I have in my showroom, and it’s probably my very favorite accessory, because it is truly so extraordinary. Upon entering my warehouse I have a gorgeous Shona sculpture called “Lady with great Desire” by Richard Kanjara. It is as if Picasso himself sculpted it. It’s a well known fact that Picasso was very influenced by African Art and in this piece the similarities are clearly noted.
The recycled rail-wood we addressed earlier comes from 4 different trees, namely Yellow Jarrah, Panga Panga, African and Rhodesian Teak. We also have products made from African mahogany, mostly created by a Russian artist now residing in South Africa. He hand carves each piece of furniture with a distinct modern African flair. Recently he was commissioned by the House of Fendi from Milan, to produce furniture for their new home store in Miami. When the Italians turn to Africa for their products, you must know that we are doing something right.
I also ventured into a part of South Africa’s colonial history, using indigenous precious woods that grow in the rain forests of South Africa. Known as the Garden Route, this timber is under strict government protection. We are only allowed to use these timbers once the trees have fallen. These forests house some of the worlds most expensive and rare timbers; Stinkwood and South African Yellow wood. If you want to know where you can buy these original antiques today, try Sotheby’s in London, you may get lucky. Thus far I have not used any Stinkwood, however I do have a few heirlooms in my home, and no, they are not for sale! I have a few contemporary Yellow Wood tables in my warehouse with aluminum horn shaped legs and these are available for purchase.
I have a website, for people who are not able to travel to Newport Beach. My business is set up on both continents, and for the most part I am able to order pieces and have them delivered to my client’s across the globe Each and every product, whether it’s furniture, accessories, lighting, rugs, or modern native art, are suited for the hospitality industry, your home or office.
Before 2001, the so-called “home products” that were exported from Africa where mostly artifacts famed by tourists, I am thankful that Phases Africa has a part to play in the telling of this positive story; a tale of a continent who’d rather be known for their trade, instead of their plight for aid.