Principal of her eponymous architectural design firm in Manhattan, Heather Faulding is not only renowned for her design work in residential, hospitality, and retail environments but also for  furniture, jewelry, and lighting — including a custom chandelier she created for South African President Nelson Mandela. Here, she tells us about her creative process and how that charity project came about.

By Heather Faulding, principal of Faulding Architecture and Design

For New Year’s, we went to South Africa. A relative’s wedding there lasted three days and then we journeyed to Cape Town. What makes the Cape so beautiful is that, because it’s windy, the air is clear and the mountains are as purple as can be. All the colors are pronounced.

A lot is happening art-wise, even more so during our visit because it was summer then and festive in feeling, like the 4th of July in the U.S. One of my oldest friends is now painting full-time, and the two of us went to the new Center for Contemporary Art, which is made up of silos — magnificent displays of lights, color, and art. Africans are fearless with their art; it’s really inspiring and made me crave getting back into art. I love to work with lights and found materials; maybe it’s the warmth or the sun on this beautiful land undergoing renewal that inspires me.

Even though I’m from South Africa, this trip was my first in 10 years. Before and since then I’ve had the opportunity in an official capacity to get to know several of that nation’s leaders because my husband is the now-retired South African ambassador to the United Nations.

Seeing the rebirth of that nation deepened my appreciation of the people and culture of South Africa. It required synthesis of early and recent influences, awakening the need to do something creative. This trip brought back to me the time when it all came together in a single…chandelier.

Entertaining people as renowned as the late President Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu is mostly done at large parties or relevant functions because this is an opportunity for everyone at the United Nations to meet the visiting leaders. Besides this, we were responsible for large and small gatherings for visits as when Mandela, Bishop Tutu, and Chief Buthelezi came over as part of the mission to the Security Council. Another time, we rode in the cavalcade when Mandela and F. W. de Klerk received the Liberty Bell Medals in Philadelphia just prior to receiving Nobel Peace Prizes in Oslo. We arranged one fantastically interesting women’s lunch with Zindzi Mandela (Nelson’s daughter), Helen Suzman, significant U.S. politicians, CEOs, and the head of the Organization of African Unity at United Nations.

My role gave me a distinct perspective, plus the opportunity to get to know leaders personally. I like to say I got to see greatness in all its different forms. The late Kofi Anan, for example, was the most wise, gentle, wonderful human being, and extremely caring about humanity. I knew him from when he was the Head of Peacekeeping Operations at the United Nations and through his term as Secretary General. He taught me a lot about style in conflict and handling tough situations.

At one point, a number of designers were invited to create and contribute a work for charity. Since I had designed and made chandeliers before, I was invited. (Mine are not your typical chandeliers; I’ve done a lot with ostrich eggshells, which I illuminated. Another of my projects was a Magnolia chandelier for the government of Liechtenstein.)

For a New York City charity auction benefiting AIDS research, designers were selected and asked to partner with one of their celebrity clients or colleagues. My first choice was naturally to work with Mandela and preferably with South African craftsmen. I collaborated with Mandela’s daughter on this and from my sketches she selected a chandelier. We decided it would be egg-shaped in green and gold as a reference to a whole new beginning for South Africa. Around the circumference of the fixture were silhouettes of children made of copper and holding hands as though around the entire globe. Beside each child was a surface-mounted light bulb.

We used African beading to make it very colorful. I took the chandelier framework with me to South Africa and brought it to local ladies who did beadwork, so that the hands of many Africans would be on this creation. The result was a beautiful piece! Because this was a fundraiser and other celebrities and their designers attended, we are told that actress Julia Roberts bought it for her home in New Mexico.

Lighting, color, and design are at the core of my life. I’d love to go back to focusing on fixture design and art installations — especially with the ever-evolving technology. We are working on designs for a special chandelier for an iconic store at the moment with LED and motion. Some of our art installations include collage, recycling the original blueprints and yellow tissue sketches and molded into multi-dimensional artwork capturing the personality of the client in different ways for each piece; it’s one of my joys.

Over the years, Faulding Architecture has amassed a dedicated following of local and international clientele who have hired her to put her design touch on a broad range of projects including New York City townhouses, condos and apartments, vacation homes, corporate offices, boutiques, restaurants, event displays, and her love of branding and retail. 

Heather Faulding is a graduate of the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa as well as Ball State University in Indiana. She is LEED-
certified and has been practicing since 1981.