Text Deborah Louw Styling Julia Stadler Photographs Warren Heath When a house is standing as it was first designed and built some 90 years ago, it presents something of a challenge to any potential new owner. To bring it into the 21st century, you could renovate extensively, so that its original structure is unrecognisably altered and something of its spirit lost. Or you could follow the path that Cape Town couple Dean Faclier and Leasa Mensing have favoured, which is to preserve as much of the original structure as is feasible, merely tweaking or expanding elements as necessary to turn it into a more practical home. When Dean first saw this house in the midst of bustling Tamboerskloof about 10 years ago, it had the generous proportions, high ceilings and quiet grace of most Victorian-era homes. There were plentiful, established trees and a comfortable stretch of garden. But it also had ugly, iron-framed windows and a meagre kitchen, and it was short of a bedroom. Dean, a professional builder, found a careful solution. To the kitchen area he added an extension whose flooring, wooden doors and lofty wood-framed windows mimicked the original; at the back of the house he built a matching double-volume room that became the couple’s bedroom, bathroom and private lounge, opening out onto a grassy entertainment area and pool. The ethos of incorporating elements of the old into aspects of the new extended to some of the furnishings: the dining table, for example, was made out of discarded ceiling beams. Leasa had long coveted a set of John Vogel chairs she’d seen and decided they were ‘the perfect partners’ for the table. In fact, throughout the home there’s a comfortable and charming mix of contemporary pieces and old finds. Nothing, strangely, looks out of place. A huge flat-screen TV perches atop a worn vintage cupboard. A hand-painted antique yellow Chinese cabinet that Leasa found stands happily in the thoroughly modernised kitchen. Artworks by Peter Eastman, Gail Catlin and Barbara Wildenboer in the living area are juxtaposed with an Art-Deco armchair recovered in ikat fabric and a grey-blue velvet couch (‘a piece that I had on hold for months before I eventually found the fabric I loved to have it made up in’, says Leasa). One glance at the deep-blue painted wall in the entrance hall and you know that this is a place where relationships are cherished. Family photos – of children, couples, grandparents on their wedding day – share space with snaps from the couple’s travels. Leasa, who admits to a love of trees, takes a photo of a tree in every country she visits: one shot, taken in Morocco, is of ‘the oldest olive tree I’ve ever seen’. Her other passion is interiors. She found a new career in decorating children’s rooms after having to convert an office and old bedroom into bedrooms for Lily (3½) and Adam (2), filling them with vintage floral fabrics and retro toys. ‘I love the nostalgia evoked by things that have had a life before you. I love to imagine the stories they could tell…’ Even with guesthouses as neighbours, a café-restaurant two doors down and the nexus of New Church Street and Kloof Nek Road just a street away, the house is an oasis of calm. Says Leasa: ‘I love the fact that the city is literally five minutes away but our garden is like a peaceful sanctuary away from the madness.’ This is a house to be alone in as much as it’s a place for whichever friends and members of the extended family drop by. The house that Dean first saw and loved is very much a home that embraces, accommodates and nurtures its family. Room Service, 083-745-4152
Leasa’s Home Truths
My favourite place here is the day bed under the avo tree in the afternoon. My most inspiring encounter would be to have the late, great Isabella Blow and Alexander McQueen in a room together. She was eccentric, stylish and creative, and he was just a wizard of design. What an inspiring friendship theirs must have been. I’d describe my entertaining style as very casual and last-minute, but I always like an opportunity to lay the table with old Argentinian linen, my family’s antique silver cutlery and Blue Willow platters picked up from the Milnerton Market. My favourite colours are every shade of blue and green. My top piece of decorating advice: only buy something if you absolutely love it and will keep dreaming about it if you don’t get it. My pet design hate is bad lighting. (And soulless interiors that don’t give you a clue about their owners’ personality.) Some of my favourite things are travelling without a time limit and all the experiences that come with that. My most exciting holiday ever was a two-month trip to India that I did with Dean just after we’d met … one way of really getting to know someone in a very foreign but incredible environment. On my bedside table are books that I wish I had the time to read and decor magazines I relish whenever I have half an hour to myself. My best way to relax is picnic breakfasts on Glen Beach with the kids while Dean surfs. What I love best about living here is having Table Mountain as the backdrop to everything that happens, although I’d swap it in a heartbeat for six months of living in New York! This article was originally featured in the May 2011 issue of House and Leisure.