Meet Sue McCoubrey – co-owner of Block & Chisel

After an incredible 30 years in the local decor industry, Lynn McAdam, and her company Block & Chisel has established a significant brand at the top end of South African retail and interior design.

Her daughter Sue, and son Paul, are now sharing the reigns in this family owned and run business, Paul operationally runs it day to day and Sue heads up the look and feel of the shops. Block & Chisel have featured in many magazines, at trade shows and are a house hold name in South Africa.

They have also opened up a flagship store in Illovo, and we caught up with Sue to find out more about this thriving decor business…

Tell us about the idea behind Block and Chisel and how it developed in to the well known brand that it is today?

My mum had been collecting antiques and hiding them under her bed from when she was a teenager. From an early age she was always an entrepreneur and started her own businesses in Cape Town, until she co-founded Biggie Best with Pru Fuhl.

After selling that, she and my dad started manufacturing and finishing furniture – he is a designer – and he used to carve ducks, hence the name Block & Chisel.

My mother does the buying, my dad has overseen the product design, my brother is the managing director and runs the show operationally, as well as directing the shape and look of the brand, and I run the look of the stores, as well as buy the smalls and homeware accessories. It’s a good mix because we all have such different skills.

Over the years we have built our own manufacturing plant and developed a very successful range of sophisticated, classic furniture – The Sibley Range – which has stood the test of time, and now my brother and I are introducing more eclectic, modern, and bold shapes and colours to work with these designs. It is working so well at the moment, as customers love the courage and statement of mixing styles.

We expanded our Cape Town operation to our flagship store in Diepriver and our Illovo store in Gauteng has been doing super well. It’s a huge store and it brings something a little different to Joburg.

When did the Illovo store open, and what is different about your first Gauteng store, as opposed to your other stores?

It’s a striking building in Illovo for a start. We have often been used to very traditional buildings in Cape Town – Kloof Street, Chelsea Wynberg and Claremont. But our two most recent stores in both Joburg and Cape Town are much larger and more modern.

It represents the evolution of our brand I think. In the Illovo store, there are four different levels so there are many different looks and feels, room settings and products. It allows us to showcase more variety across furniture and homeware accessories – from English Country to Eastern to bolder more modern styles and colours.

Where do you source all your incredibly beautiful and unique items from?

We actually travel the world to various trade shows and visit superb quality suppliers that we have known and built up over the years. But we also have our own manufacturing plant in Cape Town with 36 craftsmen and women. We produce our own line of furniture – The Sibley Range – which has earned its own reputation for being handcrafted and hand finished and customers can choose different colours, tops and finishes.

We have always felt it’s very important to have a strong local component because jobs and skills development are key and we have some amazing people who have been with us for over 25 years now!

What has been your rarest/most unique find on your travels, and why?

Interestingly you stop looking at individual finds over time and start to look at unique suppliers, those that really have a vision and the skills to match, suppliers that are on trend with colour and design, produce superb quality and also deliver bold stand-out items.

But to be specific, if I had to, I once found a huge Balinese mirror in Indonesia. It takes up a whole wall. I have never seen anything so magnificently carved. And I couldn’t sell it. We still have it!

Best selling item in the store – and why do you think that was?

Gosh, what a difficult question because they come and go in waves – some sofas are literally flying out the door. We have this vivid range of colors and the soft textures of the 3-seaters and L-shapes are sublime.

Our own design Sibley refectory table has been going for years and never loses favour due both it classic, high quality finish. It’s something that isn’t transient or you will get bored, a robust mature and beautiful piece of furniture that provides a real statement.

Bucket list travel destination and why?

Would possibly have to be Bora Bora. There are many places I want to go to. But many of them are more accessible. This is bucket list because it’s a fair distance away, and seems so beautifully remote and quiet with such prominence of colour. Bucket list for me is more about the lesser populated parts of the planet because of the rate of development these days.

But if it wasn’t bucket list, there’s plenty here that is truly amazing. Babylonstoren in Franschoek has to be one of my favourite places. What they’ve done there, the gardens and farm and cottages, is genius.

What book are you currently reading?

I am currently reading Brene Brown (again!) Really appreciate her philosophy.

Favourite thing about South Africa – that makes you think ‘home’?

It would have to be some of the really fun people I know. There’s such great memories evoked by visiting certain places with friends – Plett particularly. I do love the different seasons in Cape Town which really commit themselves to make an impression on us, and especially the colours of the oaks as they shed, revitalise and flourish again in Spring.

Find out more and view their collections on their website here… 

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