‘I just love the intensity of a small space,’ John Jacob Zwiegelaar insists with such enthusiasm, it is clear he’s most passionate when talking about his work. It’s perhaps because for the lauded Cape Town-based interior designer, nine-to-five comprises so much more than arranging beautiful objects in a home; it’s a meticulously constructed system of thought and analysis – a language – that’s so congruent, it provokes sentiment.
‘I’d call it an emotive science,’ he explains of the way that he approaches projects such as this tightly edited, downright sartorial apartment in Tamboerskloof, Cape Town. ‘What I do is not so much about decorating but about architectural detailing. I believe that harmony is created through carefully considered proportions.’
Having been approached by the homeowner to create a lock-up-and-go in the city that breathes style and sophistication, Zwiegelaar began the same way he does with all his commissions: standing inside, analysing every detail. ‘That’s my starting point. I’ll look at the house and think, what are the shortcomings and what are the pros? How do we maximise the positive aspects and fix the negative ones?’
The first aspect to be addressed here was the proportions. ‘The doors and windows accentuated the low ceiling and sense of pokiness,’ he says. ‘The sensation created by a window that appears full height as opposed to a little block in the wall is massive.’ So they ran a floor-to-ceiling shutter over the boxier windows to enhance the loftiness and light. Views that were once restricted are now magnified thanks to smart aspect shifts, such as opening up the bedroom wall so that the homeowner could enjoy views of the leafy suburb from the bed. ‘When we created that opening, it changed everything,’ says Zwiegelaar. ‘Suddenly you have perspective and greenery to look at.’
Zwiegelaar’s predilection for proportion is evident in each zone of the home – take for example the entrance hall, where an outsize artwork plays deftly off the round mirror opposite. ‘Objects have no meaning or purpose until they are contextualised, so when I look at objects, I scrutinise the coherence of the language,’ he says. Language remains a critical consideration for Zwiegelaar, whose oeuvre is underpinned by architectural concepts such as proportion, perspective and symmetry. It’s why much of the furniture found in this home was drawn and planned at his studio John Jacob Interiors.
‘It means that the scaling is augmented to achieve the best result,’ says Zwiegelaar. ‘For an area this size, the dining room table is actually quite large, but it helps creates a sense of luxury.’ The bespoke pieces also allow materials to be used to their best advantage – a coffee table has a sandblasted look that expresses its natural quality, for example, grounding the home with a subtle impression of earthiness.
Indulgent finishes such as grass cloth, broken silk and rough linen are found throughout the apartment, an orchestrated repetition of surfaces you want to brush lightly with your fingertips and sink comfortably into. ‘We incorporated natural textures to enhance the feeling of opulence,’ says Zwiegelaar. And there’s no shortage of that in the 65m² that make up this home, from the subtle white veins of Nero Marquina marble that glides across the kitchen to the softly lit bathroom that emanates tranquillity.
‘Even if you’re not into design, as humans, we have this thing engrained in us that when there’s synergy between forms and colour, the result is harmonious,’ says Zwiegelaar, making his job sound like nothing more than a simple equation. But when it comes to this pad, it’s clear he has it down to a fine art.