A modern-day Melrose place, Whitehall court has a tradition of housing some of Joburg’s most influential residents, turning it into a 21st-century commune of cool.
Built in 1923, Whitehall Court was the first and only residential building of its time in Killarney, then the estate of famed tycoon Isidore Schlesinger. In the 1950s it was converted to accommodate 36 stately, upmarket apartments and now, almost a century after it was built, the block still stands majestically over 4th Avenue. A feat of historical and architectural genius, Whitehall Court manages to be both lavish and homely, public and private.
Owing to this, in and amongst the larger community of Whitehallers exists a micro-community of creative and dynamic entrepreneurs who share an appreciation for history, art, design and each other. This heritage gem is home to Susan Greig, Karen Liebmann, Dean van Aswegen, Howard Green, Natale Labia and Laurence Sachs, who each walk us through their version of the grandeur of Whitehall and how their lives overlap in the unique building.
180 square metres, middle floor
‘Whitehall is a fantasy escape into something else. You could be in an apartment in France. It’s my little piece of Paris, the one city in the world that I love going to over and over again and never get tired of. There’s a strong sense of the past here, that you’re living in preserved history – the elegant architecture, incredible mouldings and detailed walls. Many years ago, when Whitehall had just been sold, I was driving past and thought, “Oh my God.” I was blown away. Then I saw an advert to live there. My first apartment was small and poky but I had to live here. My only regret is not buying the flat next-door when it became available.
‘My dressing room – and space to relax – was originally a bathroom. It still has its original marble, although it gets a bit cold. My lounge is a complete mix of everything beautiful and unusual that catches my eye. Nothing matches but everything works together. It’s a hodgepodge. Over time your idea of what’s beautiful changes, but I’d rather have an empty room than have a room filled with things I don’t like. Years ago I loved French antique country style. That’s completely changed. Now I have a storeroom filled with things I don’t like but I can never imagine living anywhere else.’
Susan Greig Cooking School
120 square metres, middle floor
‘I’d gotten so used to living in Hyde Park; I didn’t want to move to Killarney at first. We moved here three years ago, but eventually the owner wanted the place back. A while later a friend mentioned that a flat was going. Unlike when you live in a freestanding home, everyone’s door is always open here and it’s a tight-knit community filled with focused, high-achieving, like-minded people – Karen Liebmann and I have been best friends since we were teenagers.
‘I live in a two-bedroom flat with my daughters, Annabelle and Sophie, and my husband, Christopher. My style is traditional – I love Regency and Empire style with a palette of black and gold. My favourite room is our bedroom, where I have a collection of antique ink bottles. I love collecting to build a finished presentation and often visit Take It for Granted Antiques in Parkhurst for French and English antiques. In our dining room is my favourite piece in our home, an Alessandro Papetti painting, as well as ikat chairs we had custom made.’
Businesswoman and philanthropist
180 square metres, top floor
‘I love Whitehall Court for its neighbourly support network – it’s like Melrose Place for grown-ups. It’s the ultimate step up from communal living. Apart from the absolute charm of the building, it was my dearest friend Susan Greig who convinced me to move in. Before settling in and starting this new chapter of my life, it was necessary to undertake some extensive renovations and redecoration. I turned to the expertise of one of my many talented neighbours, Dean van Aswegen, to transform the formerly dowdy interior into a chic New York-style apartment. Dean rose to the challenge, designing a distinctly modern home for me and my daughter. Although I’m one of the newer “kids” on the Whitehall block, so to speak, I was humbled by how readily we were welcomed into this unofficial community.’
180 square metres, middle floor
‘I moved here through a friend of a friend. At the time I wasn’t looking to buy, but was urged to have a look. As soon as I walked in, I knew it was where I wanted to live. My folks’ house in Cape Town is Victorian and I’ve always lived in old buildings, so Whitehall felt like coming home. Joburg is full of new buildings, renovations and rethought areas, so creating a home that feels distinctively yours takes work. Here, with the sense of history, it’s special as it is.
‘I live between Cape Town, Joburg and London, so I spend about a third of the year here. Word of mouth usually gets you into Whitehall and the building’s history attracts people who appreciate it deeply. I’ve seen people leave Whitehall only to move back in. Some return two or three times during the course of their lives. Others wait a long time to get in, then never leave. I consider myself lucky to live in a space with all these fascinating people. Laurence is a wonderfully wise, deep-thinking man. Karen and Susan are the grand dames of Whitehall and have brought panache to the building. Howard has awesome one-liners whenever I see him. Dean is absolutely hilarious and remarkably talented. Everyone knows everything about everyone else, and the best part is not having to go far to spend time with people you like.’
130 square metres, top floor
‘I consider myself a friendly guy who’s interested in the lives of others. I’ve made an effort to get to know everyone here, and Karen and Susan are like family to me now. I’m big on living in a relaxing environment with a natural feel. Comfort is key – I lean towards old antique wood and lampshades, not bright, modern art.
‘Living in Whitehall is like being in a haven in the middle of Joburg. New buildings are designed to be very private, but here you practically see into other people’s kitchens. It gives the place life. Killarney was Isidore Schlesinger’s estate, with no other homes around – only his film studio where Killarney Mall is now. His main apartment was on the middle floor and the others were used as offices and rooms for actors, directors, creatives and intellectuals throwing parties in the 1960s. Today there are 36 apartments, and it’s like living in another country.’
Dean van Aswegen
110 square metres, ground floor
‘It was the grand yet welcoming triple-volume entrance hall of Whitehall Court, with its brass-and-marble staircase, that stole my heart when I was looking for a new apartment. I pinch myself every day as I drive home through Killarney to what reminds me so vividly of the Carlyle Hotel in New York.
‘At home, I decided on an eclectic juxtaposition of pieces, some new and some that I’ve accumulated over the years, to punctuate the double-volume white walls and grey floor. The result strikes a balance between understated retro accents and bold, contemporary pieces. For example, a brass server and coffee table in the lounge sit comfortably alongside a tropical-themed Nicole Levenberg print. Playing house has never been more fun than in a building that evokes a distinctly bygone era.’