A sanctuary of favourite things
Twin sisters Jesse and Jamie Friedberg sold Skinny Legs & All, their downtown Cape Town café in 2015; the café that gave them their house, their table, their stove, their new bespoke catering business, their friends, everything really. I'm drinking a glass of sparkling water – poured with the kind of precision you get from a true aesthete – in the twins’ shady whitewashed Victorian townhouse in Tamboerskloof. Last week's dusty pink FT Weekend is folded on the table, Jesse and Jamie are both wearing oversized 'men's' shirts, GAP probably.
We were searching for a home, a home, comes the echo. Jesse and Jamie speak in stereo. We followed all the usual avenues – Gumtree, those funny old cards pinned up at Spar etc – but there is nothing for rent in Cape Town, nothing. (I nod in agreement, I’m searching for a home at the moment: 2/3 beds, wooden floors, working fireplaces; not going to find that in the local gazette.)
So, we drew a picture, a picture, of what we wanted in our dream house – it looked just, just, like this house – and we stuck that pencil drawing next to the till at Skinny Legs. Very soon after that, a customer pointed out that the rendering looked just, just, like the house she was renting and about to vacate! Did we want to take her place? And we did, we did. (Don't give up, they chide me! Draw a picture and don’t compromise.)
Their uncompromising approach is evident everywhere: sparsely furnished bedrooms, the cream Smeg stove ensconced in the original brick kitchen hearth, the Inverroche Gin from Stilbaai in the freezer, the lack of dining room chairs… We’d rather have no chairs than chairs we don’t love, yes, we'd rather sit on the floor, on the floor.
For our interview we searched out three chairs to place around the beautiful dining table, Scandinavian Mid-Century – also a by-product from the café, bartered for an artwork with a customer, as is the Michael Taylor painting ‘on loan’ in the lounge. We ‘rent’ the Taylor for biscuits; we all laugh. Food is behind everything in this house and their kitchen is the heart of the home. Of course, the Victorians didn’t believe that a kitchen should be the physical centre of a home and so Jesse and Jamie’s 100-year-old black-and- white-tiled kitchen, almost hidden at the back, looks nothing like the industrial open-plan kitchens of modern houses. It doesn't look like the head office of a new corporation; and yet it is, of their new food journey. The domestic kitchen and home-cooked meals are essential to what they’ll be offering: personalised, all natural, holistic and wholesome. Baking is becoming more and more important for them; bespoke cakes, fairy cupcakes with seasonal buttercream icings, understated, tasteful celebratory cakes and batches of biscuits with that undeniable home-baked flair.
A big inspiration is South African-born Rose Carrarini of Rose Bakery in Paris. She has published two cookbooks, which are beautiful: How to Boil an Egg and Breakfast, Lunch, Tea. They are retrieved from the kitchen where they were proudly sitting among miscellany, languid flower arrangements and collectable crockery — we flip through How to Boil an Egg admiring the charming illustrations. Jesse gets excited about food writing and opens the FT Weekend. You must read Rowley Leigh, he writes so beautifully, so beautifully. He elevates, writes as though it were Rilke.
There are books of poetry, art, literature, politics carefully curated into small still lives in the home, displayed alongside, on top of, and inside family heirlooms. The twins have a collector's eye, and a collection to show off. Their white monochrome, high-ceilinged interiors mean the tiniest details, the considered nuances, the subtlest of gestures are felt strongly.
The poetry of the afternoon — soft pinks, cool white rooms, washed-out paintings — makes me remember some of the lines from the enchanting start of Tom Robbins’s novel Skinny Legs and All: 'This is the room of the wolfmother wallpaper… This is the room where your wisest ancestor was born… This is the room where your music was invented… This is the room where moss gradually silenced the treasure… Lovers, like serpents, shed their old skin in this clay room.' jesse-jamie.com
Originally published in HL April 2015