Text Leigh Robertson Styling Retha Erichsen Photographs Warren Heath Former Londoner Melissa Brake’s spirited, comfortably stylish family home, set on a quiet cul-de-sac in Cape Town’s Newlands, positively exudes good energy. For starters, this well-known yoga and Pilates teacher uses it as a base to instruct a growing following of students, with her classes held in a serene, self-contained upper-level studio, and sometimes spilling out onto the surrounding deck on mellow evenings, taking in the equally lovely hind view of Table Mountain and its forested slopes. There are always uplifting oils being burned, music in the air, and the hum of people coming and going. It was an inspired decision to build a studio on the flat roof of the existing house, a classic, clean-lined structure set amid a lushly treed garden. When Melissa moved in four years ago it had already undergone well-considered renovations by its previous owners, with its interior spaces invitingly voluminous and open, and an easy flow between the living areas inside and out. She called on friend Paolo Viotti of Vivid Architects to see how her vision for the studio might be realised. With a few drawings to get things started, Paolo recommended local architecture firm Beatty Vermeiren to complete the project. The result is a perfectly integrated addition that has, in fact, enhanced and contemporised the house. The glass box invites the magical views in, while the warm timber cladding and sliding timber-slatted screens create a sense of privacy, and mirror the surrounding trees with their play on shadow and light. Working from home means Melissa can be available to her family despite the occasionally erratic times of her classes. And it’s a very busy home at that, inhabited by sons Zach, 21, Billy, 15, and Ned, 12, while the fourth, 23-year-old Ben, has a home of his own yet is a frequent and very welcome visitor. ‘What’s so amazing for me is that I can work and have the kids here, and not change anything I do,’ says Melissa. She describes her life as ‘one big melting pot that centres around this space – all of it just flows around in a sort of confused, chaotic but happy state’. Included in the mix are friends constantly dropping by, her ex-husband (‘it’s all very amicable’), her boyfriend, her adored dogs, Dharma and Lili, and a cat called Cat. Paolo’s interior designer wife, Magda Viotti, helped Melissa achieve the home’s effortlessly cool, relaxed look. ‘My style is really functional,’ says Melissa. ‘I don’t have stuff that doesn’t serve a purpose, or pictures that I don’t love.’ She’s filled the living spaces with generous leather sofas and armchairs that are timeless and practical. ‘Because there are always dogs on the furniture,’ she adds. Melissa’s roots (she’s been in South Africa for 12 years) shine through in the ever-cool Union Jack that makes an appearance on the Smeg fridge in the kitchen, cushions scattered about the sofas, and a tea set given to her as a gift by her sister in England. The walls are hung with a varied collection of works by the likes of Irish painter Hughie O’Donoghue, British Op Art star Bridget Riley, and local artists such as Kate Gottgens, Stan Engelbrecht and Stephen Inggs. While the studio was being built, the architects cleverly included a timber pergola below, both continuing the aesthetic of the new addition and bringing shade to the downstairs deck and its convivial entertainment area. Timber walkways lead from the deck into an expansive, wonderfully wild garden that’s cut across by a bubbling mountain stream. Perfectly tranquil for yoga practice, the garden also offers a respite from the heat for visiting friends. ‘The kids sit in the stream and catch crabs and tadpoles,’ says Melissa. ‘It’s really fabulous in summer.’ And no doubt for the rest of the time too… Yogaway Yoga and Pilates Studio, yogaway.co.za; Beatty Vermeiren, beattyvermeiren.co.za; Vivid Architects, vividarchitects.co.za; Magda Viotti Interiors, 083-458-3098.
Melissa’s Home Truths
What I love most about summer is early mornings teaching yoga on the deck over the stream in my garden. Bliss. The first thing I do when I get home is put the kettle on to make tea, call out to see which of my sons is around, and cuddle my dogs. I’d describe my style as one foot in the Southern Suburbs, one foot in India and I drift about somewhere in-between! My favourite part of the house is my studio. The light, the trees, the views of the mountain, the feel of the wooden floors… I love the echo of the music and the smell of the oils. My best piece of design advice is, only buy it if you love it and want to look at it every day. The very idea of ‘collecting’ anything is exhausting. All that stuff to hold on to. I really try to practice ‘non-attachment’, which is quite hard when you like beautiful clothes. I’m inspired by my wonderful yoga teachers – this endless passing on of knowledge is divine. And if you can just take a moment to be completely conscious, the inspiration of nature is overwhelming. On my bedside table are photographs of my beautiful sons, a statue of Shiva encircled by rose pink stones, Leonard Cohen’s Book of Longing, poetry by Pablo Neruda, and five pairs of reading glasses. My favourite retreat is our family home in Kommetjie, on ‘Old Kom’ – lying in bed and watching the sea and the clouds, and hearing the birds and the waves. I love to meet my girlfriends for lunch at Salushi and eat edamame beans and miso soup. I can’t start the day without my coffee from Melissa’s in Newlands Village. This article was originally featured in the October 2011 issue of House and Leisure.