Artist's Benoni House

Text Sarah Buitendach Styling Leana Schoeman Photographs Elsa Young Renowned South African artist Sam Nhlengethwa’s paintings are like vivid, life-filled snapshots. Whether they offer a sneak peek into 1950s and 1960s township life, provide visual memoirs of his family, depict jazz legends or pay homage to his fellow artists, Sam’s work is always filled with energy, provenance and a sense of warmth. The same can be said of the Benoni house that he and his wife, Maureen, and their two youngest daughters, Palesa, 20, and Ofentse, 10, call home. ‘We’re only a few minutes away from the airport but I love that living out here means loads and loads of space,’ Sam says of their house, located in a quiet, partially rural suburb on the outskirts of this eastern Gauteng city. The Nhlengethwas’ clean- lined, pale peach home is set amid tracts of lawn and a lovingly tended garden – there’s even a sizable soccer pitch. But it’s the buildings on the grounds and what you’ll find inside them that really warrant a closer look. This home is a living art gallery, right from the front door, where you’ll find a metal sculpture by Marco Cianfanelli. Inside, every available wall is hung with works by South African greats such as Gerard Sekoto (one of Sam’s favourites), William Kentridge, Marlene Dumas and Deborah Bell. These hang alongside the vibrant silk creations of young artist Billie Zangewa and the thought-provoking installations of Luan Nel. ‘I buy what I like,’ says Sam of his immense collection, to which he’s been steadily adding for years. Even his daughters’ rooms teem with the best contemporary local art, yet there’s still a huge overflow that’s kept in a garage storage space and his studio in Newtown. ‘My plan is to build a gallery of sorts on our property,’ he explains. ‘That way at least everything will be on display.’ Of course, while the Nhlengethwas’ home puts many an actual gallery to shame, there’s nothing cold and white-cube-like about the space. It is above all a family home – and a very stylish one at that – where the couple enjoys entertaining their family and friends. It’s also relaxed. ‘Sometimes we just sit on the patio, watching planes taking off in the distance, enjoying the peace and quiet of the neighbourhood,’ says Sam. Before finding fame as an artist, Sam worked as a set designer for the SABC. It’s where he met Maureen, who was working as a news archivist, and was exposed to the world of design. Today he’s a dedicated fan of mid-20th-century furniture and has collected everything from beautifully restored bedroom suites to radiograms in pristine condition. ‘Decade/ Wasteland at 44 Stanley Avenue is definitely my go-to spot for great retro furniture,’ Sam notes. He is also a jazz aficionado. With over 4 000 records in his collection, he loves the soulful music of greats such as Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Keith Jarrett and Abdullah Ibrahim. ‘I belong to the Jazz Fusion Update,’ he says. ‘It’s a group that meets regularly and we take turns to DJ, playing our favourite pieces for one another.’ When Sam’s not playing for an audience you’ll find jazzy tunes wafting through the house from his music room or a small building alongside the house – a room he says he built in homage to his grandmother and the life of a different era. This movingly nostalgic space sports a patterned vinyl floor, a retro kitchen unit and some of Sam’s own art depicting family members. ‘It’s a very special place and really about remembering where you come from,’ he says. ‘Some afternoons my friend Oupa Morare and I sit outside the room in the sun with a glass of wine and catch up on the day’s events; other times I have friends over and we sit at the table, put a record on and reminisce...’


Our New Year’s resolution for our house is to build a music room in front of the pool to complete the entertainment area. This is phase one of a bigger project to build a noncommercial gallery on the property to store our art collection (Sam). My favourite pieces of furniture at home are two display units – one designed by Dylan Lewis where we put glassware; the other, a semi-oval antique unit where we display old teapots and porcelain pieces (Maureen). I love to decorate with the colour red. Not too much though – just to create contrast and break the monotony of dark colours (Maureen). The best way to relax after a busy week is playing jazz records while sipping a glass of wine on the patio (Sam). Our favourite way to entertain at home is with a buffet, music and more music. Sam then saves the Cuban cigars for last on the patio (Maureen). We love doing roast chicken, grilled fish or lemon butter prawns with vegetables and leafy salads. And for dessert, my home-made pineapple cheesecake (Maureen). The ideal soundtrack for a lazy Sunday lunch is Keith Jarrett, Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell and Abbey Lincoln (Sam); Yanni and Carmen Lundy, and I’ve just discovered Lynne Arriale – what an outstanding pianist! (Maureen) What I love most about Johannesburg is the energy and its people (Sam); that there’s never a dull moment (Maureen). My dream holiday destination is Tokyo (Sam); Rome (Maureen).   This article was originally featured in the January/February 2011 issue of House and Leisure.