Text Hilary Prendini Toffoli Styling Retha Erichsen Photographs Micky Hoyle
Though the angular gables and curvaceously paned glass doors of this baronial mansion in Cape Town’s Constantia suggest historic origins, the house was actually built in the late sixties. Those doors that lend such distinction once graced an old Dutch Reformed church.
‘When we first walked into the entrance hall a few years ago, we experienced an old-world sense of grand proportions, but it was probably those handsome doors looking out towards the garden that clinched it for us,’ says Philip Tyers, who owns the house with his wife Nicky.
While the house – a traditional Cape vernacular design in the form of an H – had become ‘a bit of a rabbit warren’ with various add-ons over time, ‘it had exceptional bones,’ says Nicky. ‘We felt inspired and challenged to create something wonderful.’
Philip and Nicky are the design brains behind Colonial House Design, an interior design company and shop that they launched 17 years ago, now located in the original Cape Quarter in De Waterkant. The couple spent nine months transforming the house into one that would accommodate ‘a modern lifestyle in a traditional framework,’ as Philip describes it. The result is the ultimate in luxury: high- ceilinged rooms with natural stone floors (except in the bedrooms), filled with art and decor pieces that tend to be monumental in scale and bold in concept.
Once ‘a big, lost space full of electric cables and roof trusses’, the attic was converted into bedrooms and bathrooms for the couple’s children, India, 12, and Hudson, six. ‘They like the feel of having their own house within a house,’ says Nicky
A considerable amount of the furniture on display in their home was designed and made by Philip: every kind of sofa, cabinet, cupboard, chair or table you can imagine – sophisticated designs with a sculptural element and superior finishes – which he produces with his team of carpenters in his Observatory workshop. They also create works in resin such as the massive Elisabeth Frink-style head that stands in one of the small courtyards.
The Tyers were among the first designers to ‘do Afro chic’ in Cape Town. Since then their personal style has moved to what Nicky calls ‘fusion contemporary’ with the introduction of Eastern design. Life-size buddhas pop up in unusual places around the house; standing, sitting, contemplating life in corners or holding incongruous rosaries in outstretched hands. Still, Nicky emphasises that the house is not an extension of the shop. ‘It’s a home we’ve had fun with. A home in which the art is more important than anything else. Philip is such an enthusiastic collector, we have no walls left to hang it.’
His collection of Cecil Skotnes woodcuts covers one wall of the entertainment area that leads out from the kitchen. It’s a congenial space where guests sit at an expansive counter on his Afro-style stools, which have blue reptile-print seats, or under a skylight at his large round table with its attractive hammered finish.
Around the corner is an impressive stateroom with endless velvet curtains, a chandelier suspended from the ceiling between beams, and a long table for more formal dining. Not too formal, though, for Nicky’s uproarious book-club dinners.
The living room delivers the same kind of impact. You can very easily lose yourself in the quilted charcoal depths of an extremely high-backed sofa (also designed and made by Philip) under the eyeless gaze of two large, cross-legged buddhas, backed against smoky black mirrors and a chocolate-grey wall. It’s the same shade that Nicky chose for the exterior of the house and the walls around the garden. ‘Nicky always has a need to go darker,’ says Philip. ‘She finds it soothing.’
‘The house was chalky white inside and out,’ says Nicky. ‘So I decided this time I’m not going to be afraid of colour and went with my gut.’ Colonial House Design, colonialhouse.co.za.
Nicky’s Home Truths
True luxury, for me, means bespoke. When it comes to renovating, my advice is to get the architectural framework right first, before doing anything else. NICKY’S HOME TRUTHS True luxury, for me, means bespoke. When it comes to renovating, my advice is to get the architectural framework right first, before doing anything else. We like decor crossovers such as the French Bergère armchair that we covered with black springbok skin and an embroidered monogram. We do a lot of zingy juxtapositions of French bourgeois and African tribal. Using lots of colour and bold art and pattern makes a room pop. I love the energy that colour adds to a room. It only takes one major piece of furniture to create a room – we made the Barbarella chair in our bedroom because people kept saying they wanted a chair big enough to curl up and read in. It’s almost a sofa; relaxed but elegant. In a bedroom, comfort is everything. My father was Italian and I love cooking. That’s why the kitchen is at the centre of the house. I’ve mastered the art of the fast book-club dinner. I rush in from work and it all comes together quickly and beautifully. My signature dish is prawns with pasta.
This article was originally featured in the August 2011 issue of House and Leisure.