If you are a fan of Neil Roake’s cookbooks or have frequented his restaurants, stayed in his hotel or visited The Space stores, you may have some sense of his style: quirky with a clear sense of humour that makes it as fun as it is fashionable. His home confirms that none of that impression is contrived, filled as it is with curated collections of fascinating objects, piles of cookbooks and punches of colour on a neutral base. Despite the artworks that adorn the walls and the stylish furniture, there is a very clear sense that this space is a home and there’s nothing pretentious about it. ‘My home reflects who I am, I think,’ he says. ‘Everything about it is comfortable and I love opening the door at the end of the day. My favourite spot is horizontal on the couch.’
Neil is a collector at heart and vignettes of curated items adorn walls and shelves everywhere. ‘My collections started when I was young and had two small children and therefore no money,’ he says. ‘I would trawl markets and second-hand stores for unique, vintage finds like white, ceramic horses or bevelled mirrors.’ He still does just that, especially on overseas trips where he says there are three things he does immediately when arriving in a new place: ‘One: find the quirkiest hotel. Two: locate the galleries. Three: visit the local food market.’
Travel is what he loves the most and at home, he surrounds himself with things that remind him of adventures past, such as a collection of stones gathered on a beach near Barcelona and a group of Slovenian Catholic Crosses assembled on a recent trip to Ljubljana, a destination chosen simply because he hadn’t visited the country before. Neil is not sentimental about these collected items, though, and when the fascination has abated, he is not afraid to get rid of them, which is how novelties from his travels have been known to find their way to the shelves of The Space stores, which he co-owns. Although many items, like a vintage haberdashery cabinet, are permanent fixtures in the house, he tweaks regularly and does an occasional overhaul. ‘It’s a compact, simple space which makes it easy to change up with a coat of paint,’ he says.
The one thing he always holds on to, however, are his recipe books. ‘The best cookbooks are those which tell a story,’ he notes. Stories are important to Neil, who believes it is the storytelling element that’s made his own books so popular. And even his home has its own story: it was once the studio of Neil’s friend, the late artist Deryck Healey, and splatters of paint can still be spotted on the floors. Art is a noteworthy element of the decor and most pieces were commissioned from friends and colleagues, with accompanying anecdotes.
Neil’s eclectic taste means that very contemporary pieces sit comfortably alongside vintage market treasures. The sleek lines of certain furniture provide an interesting contrast to the natural textures that abound rather than clashing, as one may imagine. ‘I love tropical style, but not watermelon tropical,’ Neil says, and there are lots of elements which play on the seaside location, such as the raw-wood dining-room table that evokes flotsam and jetsam, and an enormous stuffed sailfish presiding over the couch.
Double doors open onto the pool area from the living room and a leafy courtyard runs along the side of the house, giving the main bedroom and en-suite bathroom some indoor-outdoor appeal. The tropical setting of the house seems to have had an influence on one of Neil’s current projects, a range of bath products with an African bent called Elixir and Treat and a new beer in the pipeline, Freedom Lager. As if his business projects didn’t keep him busy enough, Neil is also in the final stages of building a new home in Camps Bay, Cape Town. He is quick to point out, however, that he won’t be giving up his Durban home and all its treasures.
‘Food is so intertwined with memory for me,’ he says. ‘I wish I were able nip off to Mykonos right now, so I am finding myself cooking things like octopus and parsnips skordalia – easy-going, sunshine food which takes me straight back.’ He is currently influenced by the concept of Bistronomy – paring down traditional French cooking and making it more accessible. It’s not surprising that this idea, which retains a certain je ne sais quoi as advocated by Bistronomy, should appeal to Neil, as he has clearly been employing those same principles in his decor for years, ensuring that both elegance and ease characterise his home. botharoake.co.za; modernmuseum.co.za
This feature is found on page 70 of the December 2016 issue of House and Leisure.