The ‘wow’ response kicks in as soon as you walk through the pivot front door in the small entrance courtyard brimming with camellias, palms, koi and a miniature waterfall. You’re in a vast all-white space under a white ribbed roof that’s high and vaulted. A space that, with its chandelier, has the feel of a cathedral. There’s art everywhere. Artworks are stacked against the walls on either side of the fireplace, above which hangs a framed Paris Match poster. Nearby, a Claire Berlein round cloud abstract mirrors the 1930s round windows of the house and looks ‘like a portal into another dreamy space,’ say the owners. Kelims cover the white tiled floor, which flows onto a long stoep looking out across a steeple to Robben Island. In the garden below, one of Niki de Saint Phalle’s famous colourful fat lady sculptures floats in a blue pool bordered by a yellow wall.
It’s a striking house unlike any others in Green Point. ‘We salute visual people,’ say the owners, an advocate and a clinical psychologist. ‘Interiors are like spatial artworks.’ You experience this exuberant creative approach in the colourful guest loo, where they’ve blown up a photograph taken at the psychologist’s 40th birthday and turned it into wallpaper so that you’re greeted by a festive crowd of happy guests who have been given jokey alter egos by the birthday boy, a dab hand with a paintbrush.
The property is on the steep lower slopes of Signal Hill, shielded from the tormenting South Easter, and only minutes from the heart of the city – prized real estate in Cape Town. Since space has always been at a premium in this historic labyrinth’s narrow criss-crossing streets, gardens are miniscule and houses restricted. Imaginative buyers stunningly reinvent the rabbit warrens they’ve lucked into.
That was the case with this double-storey. The owners say they were fortunate to find the house of their dreams, ‘We looked for nine months and on that particular Sunday we woke up and said, “This is our last day of looking at show houses….” And there it was! We immediately connected with the possibility of space, the simple 1930s elements and the view.’
The revamp they pictured was major. Enter architect Kobus De Vos who specialises in Atlantic Seaboard properties. ‘We removed the original roof cover and structure to create the dramatic cathedral-style main living space on the upper level,’ he says.
‘And we kept the entire external shell, demolishing only the original entrance porch which looked like an add-on anyway. And we gutted the interior to create living and service spaces to suit the clients’ lifestyle.’
It was during the owners’ decorating phase that the split-level house developed a split personality, its remodelled living rooms on the upper and lower levels moving poles apart in both look and feel. ‘We like our home to have various colourful dimensions, like an interesting person,’ is how the couple describe it.
Separating the two levels is the original flight of steps, which is now painted a vivid green. ‘After a trip to Amsterdam we said, “Let’s go crazy green.”’ The stairs take you from the soothing minimalist living and dining space upstairs, with its discreetly streamlined cooking station backed by a hidden kitchen slipway, down to an infinitely more colourful and cluttered living room.
This is the entertainment area, a seductive pink and red playroom that overflows with artworks. These include the ceramics that the couple collects – Ruan Hoffmann’s plates, big vessels by Nienke van der Meulen, Samantha Morgan and Astrid Dahl. A wacky assortment of collectables are on display on pink bookshelves, while the passageway is lined with a collection of family photos opposite a procession of Moroccan Warehouse pouffes in pink, blue, green, red and silver. It’s a high-spirited space opening onto a pool deck where striped sunbeds recline among massed pot plants, piled orchids and a gold-painted niche that acts as a shrine for a variety of icons.
Art plays a significant role in the decor throughout. In the main bathroom, a Paul Birchall etching of a naked man in a crown has also been turned into wallpaper. ‘We love the details and the greys, and we’re now layering it with plates. Layers and more layers, please.’
Predictably, colour pops up all over the house. Six shades of blue feature in one of the two guest bedrooms, while in the laundry the daffodil-yellow walls make a dazzling contrast with the scarlet fridge. The shelves of the kitchen slipway are an uplifting yellow too and backed with glass to catch the morning sun.
The entire house is engaging. A great place for the wedding the couple celebrated here three years ago with 118 guests. As the owners put it, it’s a house that’s ‘honest, playful, surprising and warm.’ Kobus De Vos Architects.
Originally published in HL September 2016.