Text Leigh Robertson Styling Jeanne Botes Photographs Micky Hoyle
Before you’ve had a chance to snoop the decor, the first things likely to impress you on entering the immaculately renovated Observatory home of trendsetting Capetonians Rupert Smith and Warren Matthee are the soothing trickle of running water and an aura that’s as tranquil as a mystic retreat. It makes you stop in your tracks and re-measure your breath, and then you pick up the sensual notes of essential oils drifting through from the room Warren uses for his Hawaiian Lomilomi massage practice, Ha Pule. A cat – it might be Skye, Astro or Venus – stretches in a sunny patch on the gleaming white floor, as chilled-out as can be. In this house, good ambience is as important as how everything’s been pulled together.
As to be expected from the owners of the city’s landmark O.live Chemistry of Living interiors store, a magnet for magpies drawn in by its original and beautiful window displays, the house is filled with great stuff, the sort you instantly want to teleport to your own home. It’s the other way round for them. ‘We’re forever collecting things for the shop, some of which never actually make it there and which we’re unable to part with,’ says Warren a tad wistfully.
Unlike so many Victorian dwellings, this one’s brilliantly light, an effect created by a courtyard that forms the heart of the home, and the enveloping pristine whiteness of the floors and walls – in contrast to the alluring deep charcoal of the house’s exterior. ‘Because we have so much stuff, we decided to keep everything white to create a sense of space,’ Rupert explains. ‘My biggest fear was that the house would feel old and cluttered and dark.’
The pair’s unique take on things shines in every detail, whether it’s the fact that they painted over all the original Oregon door and window frames and skirting boards, replaced the wooden floors with white epoxy, and then fought with a building contractor over their all raw-concrete bathroom (‘he desperately wanted to paint it!’). Last year, inspired after a trip to Europe, they overhauled their look completely, stripping out the once-beloved retro wallpaper and flokatis, and giving both their home and shop an entirely new decor scheme – anyway, it’s what Rupert does as a matter of course at his creative studio in Woodstock, which specialises in designing media events and window concepts.
Wherever you cast your eye in this masterfully curated home are treasured pieces, such as their ‘pride and joy’, a Victorian butterfly dome they painstakingly constructed together, and a printer’s tray overflowing with things – stones, shells, anything – they collect when holidaying together with their foster child, eight-year-old Hero (and who proudly chose the cheerful yellow hue for his bedroom after initially going for black, like the couple’s).
Tireless market trawlers, they can never resist picking up taxidermy pieces that, says Rupert with a twinkle in his eye, ‘freak out some people… but we love being surrounded by all these animals!’ Warren and Rupert also prefer having pieces with provenance in their home. Both have managed to score classic items from the houses in which they grew up – a fabulous dining table set, a group of gloriously vintage pendant lights – and which, once updated, have fitted right in here. There’s room for humour too. An original Black Forest cuckoo clock from Germany, with a particularly exuberant cuckoo, gets ‘switched off’ at night by Warren. ‘It drives him mad,’ says Rupert.
When the season turns and the sun comes out, you’ll find them in the courtyard beside the pool, with all the doors flung open and the music cranked up (there’s surround sound throughout the house). ‘We live out here,’ says Rupert. ‘There’s simply nowhere better to be.’
Rupert and Warren’s Home Truths
The best thing about spring is the morning light in our house and seeing all our plants beaming with life after winter hibernation (Rupert); the slow but steady return of birdsong to the garden in the early mornings (Warren). The first thing I do when I get home is open all the doors, put on some music and get the espresso pot going on the stove (Rupert); greet my three cats! (Warren) I’m inspired by travel, street-style bloggers, international magazines (Rupert); music, in all its varied glory. Kloof Street youth culture (Warren). On my bedside table are the latest interior magazines and i-D magazine (Rupert); Awareness by Anthony de Mello, ylang-ylang essential oil (Warren). I’m marking the new season by sewing up new cushion covers for lounging outside around the pool (Rupert); planting even more hibiscus plants throughout the garden (Warren). Our spring entertaining style is comfortable and relaxed with delicious, simple food, good company, a great music selection and loads of wine. My signature dinner-party dish is spinach- and- olive lasagne (Warren); chilli-and-lime prawns on basmati rice (Rupert). Our most inspiring cities are London, Paris and Amsterdam. We love Observatory’s community spirit and central location (Rupert); its beautiful Victorian houses (Warren).
This article was originally featured in the September 2011 issue of House and Leisure.