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Gracious Living In A Compact Green Point Apartment

Reminiscent of a bygone age of gracious living, the Cape Town home of museum curator Christopher Peter is a glorious celebration of colourful loveliness.

Greg Cox/Bureaux Styling Sven Alberding
Gracious LIving | House and Leisure
The portrait of a lady above the original fireplace in the dining area is by David Cowan Dobson. On the right, Georgina Gratrix’s forest scene is displayed beneath a work by Alice Goldin.

 

What would you expect the home of an art curator to look like? What sort of broad-brush outline combined with delicate detail can you expect when it belongs to someone with a respected and extensive résumé in the art world?

The Green Point apartment of Christopher Peter, long-time curator-director of the Irma Stern Museum in Cape Town, more than lives up to expectations: within its compact frame, it reflects something of this creative’s enduring passions as well as his art-immersed past. It’s a bijou space with a big heart – the epitome of gracious living.

Gracious LIving | House and Leisure
Long-time curator-director of the Irma Stern Museum in Cape Town, Christopher Peter stands in the living area of his Green Point, Cape Town, apartment with some of his many vintage tea sets. His colour preferences are clear: leaf-green and violet-pink. The blue chair on the right is one of the originals from Westminster Abbey in London produced to commemorate the 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, and was found by chance at a secondhand store in the City Bowl.

 

Christopher’s artistic sensibility was shaped from a childhood spent between the family farm in the Eastern Cape and school in King William’s Town and Queenstown. ‘I used to love seeing the fashion plates in Rooi Rose from the French news periodical Jours de France. They were static, like paper dolls, my favourite pastime: I even had paper dolls of [singer] Sandie Shaw and [actress] Jean Shrimpton – both glamorous ’60s-style icons,’ he recalls. It was a happy upbringing, and one that Christopher credits with his penchant for beautiful things, both natural and designed.

From there it was a short and obvious step to art school, where he became a proficient and enthusiastic student. His life at the Irma Stern Museum (some 38 years and counting) further shaped his taste: the gallery was the Cape Town home of the late, internationally renowned South African artist Irma Stern, and it houses a permanent exhibition of many of her artworks. When the time came to look for a place of his own, sea-fronting Green Point – an older suburb in the Mother City – presented itself as a likely option.

ALSO READ: The Inner Worlds of Oil Painter Cinga Samson

A few pockets remained untouched by the new steel-and-glass modernisation that was taking place in much of the area, and in one of them he found a charming Edwardian building set in attractive grounds fringed by vibrant poinsettias. Lofty ceilings, wooden floors, a traditional fireplace and other old-world features marry to make it a suitable fit for Christopher.

The apartment was originally built – typically of its day – as a collection of small rooms leading off a narrow passageway. Christopher changed the configuration (‘more than once!’) with the help of designer Marco Helfer until it had been ‘completely turned around’ to create a cleverly circular and flowing layout.

Gracious LIving | House and Leisure
Christopher bought the ruby-coloured throw for the bedroom in a small rural store, and the carpet was once a Turkish bedspread. Above the bed is a vignette of works by various South African artists as well as a painting from Christopher’s art-school days.

 

The interior ‘path’ that leads visitors through Christopher’s home makes perfect sense: from the small, bright entrance hall you’re drawn into the living-cum-dining area, and from there, into the book-lined second living space, which is filled with works by Anton Chekhov, Jean Rhys and Katherine Mansfield. After some judicious reconstruction, what was originally the bathroom was reincarnated seamlessly as a kitchen, which is surprisingly capacious despite its small dimensions.

Gracious LIving | House and Leisure
A 1940s Argentinian free-standing basin provides an old-world contrast to the modern, walk-in shower in the revamped bathroom, which was originally a kitchen.

 

The bathroom beyond is the true gem: its previous life as a cooking space has been completely transformed, and with deft plumbing alterations, the installation of a modern shower and a 1940s Argentinian free-standing basin, it’s now both contemporary and classic.

High ceilings throughout give the interior a sense of size that the apartment’s footprint belies. The space provides a sympathetic setting for myriad pieces from Christopher’s life, reflecting his upbringing, interests and travels. This is gracious living at its most playful, yet also with a lightness of touch and an ever-present sense of easy elegance. There’s even a fur stole, echoing an old Cussons Baby talcum powder advertisement.

Gracious LIving | House and Leisure
South African paint specialist Freya Lincoln helped with various paint elements in the apartment, including finding the colours to echo those that Christopher loved on a visit to Gödöllő Palace in Hungary. The floral blind was custom-made for him by Swains Soft Furnishing in Salt River, Cape Town.

 

‘My history is all here,’ he says simply, gesturing towards the library shelves overflowing with an eclectic store of books, and the walls and display cases of memories and mementoes. ‘It’s my jewel box.’  

ALSO READ: 5 Minutes With Irma Stern Museum Curator Christopher Peter