What was initially going to be a quiet beach holiday in South Africa for Trevyn and Julian McGowan turned into a complete life-change in all aspects. In 2003, the couple and their children departed from London with the intention of having a bit of downtime. Trevyn McGown , a former actress, had spent the last few years running a small renovation and design business and managing residential building projects, often times sourcing pieces from South African designers. However, she was burned out!
Two years after their inspirational trip, the couple bought a house in South Africa and planned on living quietly. That was not to be had! The duo soon opened Southern Guild in Cape Town, a gallery that features contemporary South African collectible design. Their reputation continues to precede them… and we hope they won’t get “burned out” again anytime soon!
Southern Guild came about after the McGowan’s realized a need to be able to export South African designers’ products. By sheer size, the products were not easily exportable. McGowan explains, “We were seeing wonderful furniture and art pieces that couldn’t be made in high numbers or didn’t for the price point for these stores. We realized that what was happening here wasn’t happening anywhere else.”
In 2011, the McGowans made their international debut and took Jenkin’s Migrant and the Migrant Collection to Design Miami. The furniture they brought was more like an installation because it wasn’t functional. The oddly-shaped tables were designed to resemble a herd of wildebeests.
McGowan admits that at that point, they didn’t really have a name for what they were doing. Their intent was to showcase the best of South African contemporary design and to introduce the international world to the design possibilities alive and well on a far-away continent. Conveniently, in Miami that year, the pair’s category was called, “Collectible Design”. Fair enough!
It is Julian McGowan who has the key role in discovering new talent. With limited design education available in South Africa, he sometimes looks to fashion and architecture designers to create “outside their box”. The McGowans realize that people want authenticity and a personal connection to the pieces they choose to have inside their homes. The McGowans can clearly attest to that, with the exception of the antiques they own. The couple personally knows the artist behind each and every piece.
In 2014, things changed for the McGowans; they started a Design Foundation, began a seminar program called “Business of Design”, and were hired by V&A Waterfront Shopping District in Cape Town to curate a craft-specific space aptly named the Watershed. At this point they realized that they needed a physical space to show their designers’ works.
Southern Guild is located on the harbor in Cape Town, at the Silo District. The gallery is next to the new Thomas Heatherwick building which houses Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art. In the changing neighborhood of Woodstock, the duo was able to acquire a space which features a glass-fronted gallery and has double-height ceilings. With 3,750 square feet of space, the McGowans don’t have to think twice before mounting large-scale installations and displays.
The gallery features work of about twenty artists who are mainly from South Africa, although there are some artists from other African countries. What a treasure Southern Guild is… stunning, innovative, and genuine!