Amid the sharp new apartment blocks, the sleek cafés and the bright bars of Tamboerskloof in Cape Town lies a stretch of architectural Victoriana. Somewhere between quaint and majestic, these rows of double-storeyed, semi-detached homes are both an echo of the city’s early days and a covetable symbol of contemporary living. One of them, in a tree-lined street, caught the attention of interior designer Greg Mellor a few years ago, when it was the home of his friend, renowned South African furniture designer Gregor Jenkin.
Greg put it out of his mind when he went back to Sydney, Australia, where he was living and working at the time. On his return to Cape Town several years later, though, he discovered that other friends had moved in. By now the house had stolen his heart and, when it became available, he grabbed it.
Apart from its sense of history and good looks, it had the requisite qualities that Greg, as a designer himself, values: high ceilings, wooden floorboards, comfortably sized rooms, and the potential to include contemporising touches. Located conveniently close to the city centre, it represented an opportunity to combine a classic structure with a more modern aesthetic, while incorporating Greg’s signature ‘quirky elements of humour’. Within a few months he’d turned it into a warmly welcoming home for himself and his lawyer partner, plus a rumple of collies, a rescue pup and a well-travelled cat.
In traditional Victorian style, the house boasts an entrance hall off which various rooms open. First is Greg’s study, stacked with books, design sketches, dog baskets and assorted artworks awaiting wall space. Being north facing, it’s ideally oriented to make the most of the daylight hours. It’s one of Greg’s favourite rooms: ‘It has a lovely atmosphere,’ he says. ‘It’s great for working – and it always feels cosy; the animals pile in here and keep me company all day.’
The living room is a comfortable area similarly filled with paintings, sculptures, a slouchy sofa and a sprawling Oriental carpet. It’s topped by a timber-coffered ceiling, which was only revealed when upstairs pipes burst and the resulting flood washed away the (lower) pressed-steel ceiling panels. The room opens onto a snug courtyard flanked by a neatly square dining room and kitchen – a merrily old-fashioned space that’s nevertheless equipped with hi-tech appliances. ‘I like separate rooms,’ says Greg. ‘Some houses are suited to large open-plan spaces but others work better as a collection of discrete rooms.’
A wide wooden staircase leads from the passage to the upper storey. A north-facing master bedroom opens through narrow French doors onto a sliver of balcony overlooking the city; Devil’s Peak and Table Mountain are visible through a large southeast-facing window. The fireplace is an artwork in itself, all tiled-and-black surrounds, ‘and it works – which is useful in winter!’ says Greg.
Custom-built bookshelves behind the bed provide all-important storage and display space for cherished photographs and books. In the main bathroom glossy fittings offer a nod to modernity but the space retains an old-world grace. Adjoining it is a small study used by Greg’s partner (where he can escape the chaos downstairs), which is to be refurbished to become a bathroom. Another room at the rear of the house has been transformed into a walk-in wardrobe with ceiling-to-floor shelving, drawers and cupboards.
Adding to the character are pieces gathered on overseas trips and found in second-hand stores, antiques markets and galleries. Portraiture has long been Greg’s special art interest, although his enthusiasm for landscapes is superseding it. Both are entirely at home in this venerable house that effortlessly straddles a previous era and an urban future.
This article originally featured in the June 2013 issue of House and Leisure.