The suburb of Beaulieu in Kyalami has long been synonymous with the great outdoors. Once you’re off the main road, through the booms and into this big-sky enclave, it’s a bit like stepping into the pages of a highveld Horse & Hound. ‘I grew up riding horses and went to school in Midrand nearby,’ says Claire Clarke, co-owner of Joburg interiors consultancy By Dezign Interiors. ‘Of course, then it was dirt roads and endless open space, but it’s still got that sense of rolling veld, of being miles away from the city.’
With country living in mind, Claire and her husband, Sean, bought a stand here in 2001 – a long, rectangular plot overlooking acres of undeveloped land. Coinciding with a break from her job in IT marketing, the spacious new build was to become Claire’s first interiors project. ‘I had never dreamt of a career in design,’ she laughs. ‘In fact I’d never measured a window!’
Before building their dream home, Claire and Sean spent a year collecting a scrapbook of images that they loved. ‘We spent a long time deciding on exactly what we wanted, and paid a lot of attention to the generous proportions of the rooms. In retrospect it’s far too big for two people, but there’s a wonderful flow between each of the living spaces, and a strong connection to the veld beyond.’
Architecturally Claire describes the house as having a Natal plantationhouse style. ‘With the timber rafters and exposed brickwork we could definitely have gone for a farmhouse interior. But there’s only so much rustic that I can live with, and it ended up being a more tailored, classical space.’ Travertine and French-oak floors clad the interior living areas, and this together with Claire’s neutral palette and clever juxtapositions give a sense of calm, soothing luxury.
‘I love being surrounded by a feeling of serenity. And while I enjoy colour, I think a sense of peace is easier to achieve by keeping your base neutral. After that, colour is easy to add as you go along.’ The main bedroom is a perfect example of Claire’s love of calm: delicate Nina Campbell wallpaper is offset by a pared-down leather headboard and a gunmetal velvet throw.
Add a clear Perspex chair and bedside tables in high-gloss black, and it’s not unlike being in a chic boutique hotel in the country. Running throughout this comfortable, elegant home are noticeable threads of symmetry and balance. ‘Playing with scale was important to the overall look,’ says Claire. ‘When I commissioned the dining table made from floorboards I made it extra wide to fit the space more snugly. I also had most of the cabinets and storage custom made, which helped to create a cohesive, uncluttered feel.’
In the generous taupe-and-white kitchen – a toasty living space in winter thanks to the vast built-in fireplace – Claire made a statement with the chequerboard splashback and phone-box red Aga. The kitchen flows into the dining and living areas, which in turn overlook the covered veranda. ‘The veranda is probably our best-loved spot because it overlooks a wetland conservancy. The birdlife is fantastic, and nothing beats having dinner on the deck on a summer’s evening.’
Together with business partner Bianca Shakinovsky, Claire now works across corporate, retail and residential projects. Changing careers has been a rewarding journey for this calm, unflappable entrepreneur. ‘It all began with this home,’ she says. ‘I learnt that it’s about having a good team and keeping a level head. And that there are often several solutions to a problem.’ What Claire loves most about this house is its sense of peacefulness. ‘Someday the land in front of us will be developed; we knew that all along. But the wetland is protected, and it still feels like we’re living in the heart of the country.’
By Dezign Interiors, 011-887-5749, bydezign.co.za.
CLAIRE’S HOME TRUTHS
I love living where I do because it’s like being in the bush while in the middle of the city. My most treasured decorative item is my collection of William Yeoward crystal glassware, personally signed by the man himself. I relax with a glass of ice cold Sauvignon Blanc watching the sun set on the banks of the Crocodile River at our Leopard Creek holiday home. The best things about summer are peonies and the smell of the rain. My entertaining style is, go big or go home. My signature dinner party dish is home-made panna cotta and dark-chocolate truffles. Canapés should be in one hand, and a glass of French bubbles in the other. My most rash purchase was our bright red Aga. My most inspiring place is Notre Dame cathedral in Paris; it gives me goose bumps. The soundtrack to my perfect weekend is Norah Jones. The most exciting project I’ve worked on is the secret makeover of my mother-in-law’s home, which I quickly did while she was holidaying in Aussie. My pet design hate is broekie lace and swags and tails. My interiors nightmare is polyester. All my money goes on feeding my dogs as they only eat roast chicken!
This house was originally featured in the October 2009 issue of House and Leisure.