Colourful Woodstock Home

Text Leigh Robertson Styling Vanessa Letch Photographs Adam Letch When creative Cape Town couple Adam and Vanessa Letch returned home in the mid-1990s after a stint of living and working in the UK, they chose Woodstock as a good neighbourhood to buy in for two reasons: its pre-gentrification prices (you could still pick up a brilliant bargain) and because, with its row upon row of picturesque Victorian cottages, it reminded them of London. ‘I love that Woodstock’s architectural heritage has remained largely intact, for the most part being preserved for future generations,’ says Adam, a photographer. While many people who’ve bought in the suburb have gutted and modernised their properties, some erecting high walls to block out the street, the Letches have kept theirs true to its original state – barring restoring all the beautiful old woodwork and a few minor alterations. Consummate market trawlers and treasure hunters, with an amazing knack for discovering unique finds, they scoured the streets of Woodstock and Salt River for interesting furniture pieces, as well as original stained-glass windows with which to replace the characterless version in their bedroom. A typically long and narrow single-storey Victorian set on a 149m2 erf (the house is a mere 130m2), the couple simply adapted it to suit their lifestyle, knocking down the wall between what was the second bedroom and the lounge, and losing the extra sleeping area in favour of increased living space. The passage leading from the front door was diverted to take visitors straight into the new dining room and lounge areas – which they separated with a magnificent antique stained-glass door-and-window set. The unused part of the passage is home to towering piles of books about art, photography and fashion. Characteristic of homes from this era, the walls are thick and solid, keeping things cool in summer and insulated in the colder months. They have painted the walls in rich, dark tones that create a soothing ambience as well as a vibrant backdrop for the works of art (including Vanessa’s own paintings and photographs by Adam) and collectables that hang in every room. The interiors are primarily Vanessa’s domain, governed by her trained eye and talent for curating spaces; a design history lecturer at Cape Peninsula University of Technology, she’s also embarked on a Master’s degree programme in surface design. While the couple’s craving for more space means they’re investigating going up into the roof, for now dealing with the limitations entails having to seriously restrict their Milnerton Market shopping sprees. They’ve never had cupboards built in, preferring to find the voluminous old wardrobes and cabinets in keeping with the Victorian style, but as a result ‘everything we have is on display,’ Vanessa says with a laugh. The kitchen is the ‘most sociable room’ in the home, ‘where guests tend to gravitate,’ says Adam. ‘It’s witnessed a large number of very festive dinner parties over the years.’ And, as chief cook, it’s where he’s happiest, too. You’re most likely to find Vanessa in the magical garden she’s created in the strip of courtyard at the back, tending her plants and vegetable patch in the company of the couple’s cat posse: Jackie Brown, Mr Stripe, Keelah and Jet, to whom the house belongs just as much. Part of the charm of living in the area is its sense of community, and its proximity to The Old Biscuit Mill and Woodstock’s burgeoning design precinct (Adam’s studio is just a few blocks away). ‘We often amble down for breakfast and a mooch around the interesting shops and galleries on Saturday mornings,’ he adds. But for this couple, staying in is still their favourite form of going out, and who could blame them? Adam and Vanessa's Home Truths The best thing about winter is the first part, when the leaves are dropping, the sky is still clear, and the snowdrops and narcissus start popping up (Vanessa). My favourite part of our home is the kitchen; I have a great love of food and cooking, probably stemming from a four-year stint as a waiter at Sir Terence Conran’s Le Pont de la Tour restaurant in London (Adam). This winter we’re entertaining with intimate cosy gatherings at home – it’s too cold and wet to go too far (Vanessa). I’ll be preparing roasts with seasonal baby vegetables, simple and hearty ‘peasant’ dishes, and Indian curries (Vanessa). I’m inspired by cities – the larger the better (Adam); the design reform movements of the 19th century that focused on honest craftsmanship (Vanessa). The first thing I do when I get home is let the cats out in the back, feed the birds in the front (Vanessa); say hi to all the cats, and pour a glass of whisky (Adam). My best piece of design advice is, always consult the wife before making any rash purchases (Adam). I collect old cameras, Victorian tintypes, knick-knacks ferreted from various flea markets and vinyl records (Adam); ceramics, plates, prints and books (Vanessa). On my bedside table is Robert Hirsch’s Photographic Possibilities: The Expressive Use of Equipment, Ideas, Materials, and Processes – if I find time to read, it’s going to be dry nonfiction of little interest to anyone not obsessed with photography (Adam); fashion and interiors magazines, and reference books for my courses (Vanessa). My most rash purchase is a print I bought at an auction – I waved my paddle for a nanosecond and it was mine. Oops (Vanessa); tickets to Buenos Aires for Vanessa’s birthday (Adam). This article was originally featured in the June 2012 issue of House and Leisure.