Text Hilary Prendini Toffoli Styling Sven Alberding Photographs Greg Cox Cape Town architect Joop van Ryswyk created an open-plan house for his family in 1969 that was so avant-garde for the period it was featured in magazines. He designed the entire upper storey as one vast space with no defined boundaries, putting the bedrooms and bathrooms below. High on the slopes of Devil’s Peak, its upstairs windows looked clear across the city towards Signal Hill, Lion’s Head and the harbour. ‘He was a visionary,’ says Kathy Page Wood, who now owns the house and is a former partner in the Hip Hop fashion label. ‘This was the first open-plan house in South Africa, and the first to have concrete floors sealed with polyurethane. When the estate agent showed it to us, the view was covered in mist and the place looked like a holiday house in Stilbaai. But I said to Elsabe [Gelderblom, her life partner], “We just have to have it.” I think Mr van Ryswyk would be happy to see what we’ve done with it.’ That was eight years ago. What they did immediately was to throw a wide wooden covered deck the entire length of the upstairs section and replace the windows with sliding doors. Lunching out there feels as if you’re perched in space. Which in fact you are. It’s a generously proportioned outside living area that embraces the city, supported by giant angled steel girders embedded in the terrace below beside the pool. An impressive bit of construction devised by local architect Roger Martin. The house bursts with creativity. Kathy and Elsabe were graphic design students at Stellenbosch University, and artworks matter more to them than curtains and carpets. Some of the art is their own, including a striking blue-and-white platter made by Kathy. Over the years they’ve collected the work of artists like Beezy Bailey, as well as Elsabe’s sister, Louise Gelderblom, whose paintings and massive ceramics are all over the house The ceramics are more like sculptures than pots; the Queen of Jordan is a client. One, with a heart on one side and a dagger on the other, is described by Kathy as ‘Louise’s relationship pot’. Their taste in art is wide-ranging. Waiting to be hung are two Pierneef woodcuts that a friend found, one being a portrait of Paul Kruger, the President of what was then the South African Republic. On a rather different theme, a struggle-era woodcut blares, ‘Mayday is ours!’ from one wall, while on another a scar-faced gangster and his bride having their wedding photos taken glare at photographer Guy Tillim. ‘I swapped a table with Guy for that picture,’ says Kathy. This is a house that functions as a place to work in as well as live. Elsabe runs a graphic design company, Farm Design. Kathy runs its event design and management arm, Farm Events, and on the day I was there she was organising decor for events at the three-day Pro-Am golf tournament, which would entail taking two 10-tonne trucks of equipment to George. Their offices are in what were the family bedrooms. They’ve kept one of the four original bedrooms for themselves, putting underfloor heating beneath marble tiles. In the second bathroom Elsabe has converted the shower into an orchid sanctuary. Plants are Elsabe’s great love. She has a clivia and bonsai nursery in the garden beneath the house and has dedicated the rest of this sloping rocky area to fynbos. A slatted wooden pathway winds through proteas, pincushions, tree aloes, leucadendrons and confetti bushes. ‘Before we moved in we used to come here every weekend to clear out the garden,’ she says. ‘We ended up with three skips full of junk. Now it’s totally indigenous and water-wise. We do nothing to it, just keep putting in more plants.’
Kathy’s Home Truths
This house is all about inside and outside living. We spend a lot of time on the deck, and we have lots of parties. You can’t imagine the view at night. Fairy tale. It’s an incredibly easy house to run because it’s all one large space that works beautifully. I don’t think I could ever live in a place with separate rooms again. Our approach to furniture is what you might call eclectic. We made the table on the deck out of the wooden counter that was in the kitchen. I found our dining-room table on the side of the road in Woodstock. I told the man, ‘I’ll buy it if you deliver it today. I’m having a party tonight and I don’t have a table.’ One of my magic things is the modern version of a chandelier I found in Paris. The crystals dangle from a long rod and light up inside. We don’t do conventional decor. I just want to surround myself with beauty. I can’t stand the thought of having to work to a colour scheme, or having someone tell me I have to get rid of the beautiful things I’ve loved and collected because they’re not fashionable or they don’t fit in. This article was originally featured in the June 2011 issue of House and Leisure.