‘What have I missed?’ asks Mogens Tholstrup, bursting in from a morning run, sweatband on his forehead and a bag of chocolate croissants in hand. An international businessman of Danish extraction with a long stint behind him as one of London’s society restaurateurs, Mogens is eager to catch up with the conversation between us and his former-model wife, Gretha. What we’re discussing is the beautiful home that the couple share, a multistorey house high in the leafy suburb of Tamboerskloof, fringed by Table Mountain and Devil’s Peak, and with an eagle’s-nest view of the Mother City.
Looking for a new Cape Town base a few years ago, they decided to view the property even though their estate agent doubted it was what they were looking for. The front door was forbidding; the exterior unpromising. But when they walked in and saw the whole of the City Bowl spread out before them, with the mountains rearing above it, they ‘just knew’.
Deal done, they hired an architect to retain the original multilevel structure while bringing in contemporary touches: longer, wider windows to maximise those stirring views; updates of the kitchen and bathrooms; extensions to the outdoor deck; and the replacement of thickly grouted terracotta tiles with cool marble. Mogens and Gretha have properties in several sought-after spots around the world – Switzerland, Finland, the south of France – but this one, originally intended as a lock-up-and-go to replace their former Cape Town bolt-hole, has become their favourite.
And it’s easy to see why. The house is flexible enough to suit every season: a snug nest in winter, a cool retreat for outdoor living in summer, and intriguing all year around. Gretha brought her innate sense of style to the interior, which has a serenity amid striking vignettes of drama. The melange reflects the couple’s varied interests and wide-ranging travels – with pieces collected from Scandinavia, Switzerland, South America and, of course, the Cape – and as avid supporters of local design and art, it’s unsurprising that all of the artworks present are South African.
Gretha has a keen eye for the unusual and is a collector who pursues a passion long before it becomes the trend elsewhere. There are collections of natural coral, animal skulls and horns in most rooms, as well as ceramic pots and a curiosity cabinet. Her next decor theme, she says, will be green – not in the eco sense, but involving an imaginative profusion of indoor plants. Because she favours texture over colour, the decor palette is limited to taupe, sand and stone. Brights feature in Mogens’ study, though, where the hues of his cherished Missoni cushions ‘really work’.
The space is laid out so that the pair can each indulge their own passions: there’s a well-equipped study for Mogens and a sleek, everything-to-hand kitchen for Gretha, who is a ‘superb cook’, says Mogens. Her culinary inspirations change with their travel schedule: currently it’s Asian, alternating with Mediterranean. (She used to travel with her favourite ingredients stashed in her suitcase; now she shops ‘local and seasonal’.)
Despite everything it offers, this isn’t a huge home. ‘We like smaller places,’ Gretha says. ‘Our place in Finland, for example, is about 200m2. It’s more than enough… until the pieces I collect get too numerous. Mogens is a minimalist; I’m a maximalist.’
Similarly, their preference is for small-scale entertaining. On a perfect evening, they might have a braai for a large group out on the deck, but generally they prefer to host a dinner for six. ‘That’s the perfect number of guests,’ says Mogens. ‘It’s intimate and yet lively and interesting.’
They are both energetic to the point of restlessness: Gretha’s enthusiasms range from gardening (‘I love going outside every morning with my scissors to trim and tweak’) to photography, while Mogens attends to business in most of the cities they visit, overseeing projects and planning new ones.
The couple laments that because of their schedules, they often miss out on some of the Cape Town attractions – although they always make time to enjoy the Kirstenbosch Summer Sunset Concerts, get exercise (Mogens is a regular on the rigorous slopes of Lion’s Head) or dine at a restaurant in the city or Winelands. ‘We’re incorrigible foodies,’ they say.
The house unquestionably suits the couple’s peripatetic lifestyle – it has the convenience and ease of maintenance that they were looking for – but it’s also undeniably a place where they are truly ‘at home’.