From the stark facade of this Higgovale house, inspired by Mexican architect Luis Barragán’s equestrian estate and its sculptured concrete water trough, you’d never imagine the jewel box of delights that awaits inside. Make that a cigar box, for this is gentlemen’s territory, and its owners have curated a layered interior inspired by Argentina’s estancias and the faded glory of the past.
Businessmen who travel frequently, Riaan and Kobus were fortunate to find a plot in this built-up area four years ago. They envisaged a simple structure with multiple options for entertaining, as well as an enclosed courtyard to safeguard their Tonkinese cats Chocolat and Coco. After two years of building, they moved in in June 2015.
Rhythm meets simplicity in the main corridor with its Italian sculpture from Artefect as a focal point.
Inside, a dramatic staircase descends through a light-filled passage to the patio with its view of Table Mountain and the silent sweeping tablecloth ahead, the harbour to the left. ‘From a design perspective, we so often try to minimise circulation space, but here we have gone with the exact opposite – making the corridor into a room,’ they explain. This passage forms the home’s axis, with its reception rooms positioned on either side.
Treated as a room, the passage with its polished-concrete walls is both a design feature and a social spot. The tiles are from Union Tiles, the leather-topped stools are from Wauhaus and the clock remnants are from Paris. The large gilt-framed mirror from OnSite Gallery reflects the harbour lights when viewed from the kitchen table.
Throughout, repetition and height impart a sense of strength, solidity and elongated elegance: polished concrete columns alternating with 2.9-metre-tall doors; the line of white ball light fittings floating over the passage; the repeated waterspouts and mirrors above the splash pool in the garden courtyard.
Into this contemporary, neutral-coloured shell the owners have layered a glorious abundance of objects, artworks and curiosities, most strikingly Kobus’ ‘passion’ – a collection of angelic icons from Argentinian churches. Forget stark minimalism (they’ve ‘been there’ but ended up selling the property along with all its contents): having built and renovated 10 houses together, the couple have honed their combined style, and it’s a homage to beautiful objects with a fascinating past, from historic South African signage to antique typewriters. In the entertainment room, for instance, cocktails are served from a dispensing cabinet salvaged from a demolished pharmacy in the Eastern Cape town of Willowmore.
The overall look is reminiscent of an equestrian country house, with its aged caramel leather, weathered gilt and gently worn patterned carpets. Equestrian touches punctuate the house: a saddle and stirrups hanging from a wall; a row of riding hats in the foyer.
Each area contains its own revelation: upstairs it’s the library and the bath surrounded by a cluster of stone angels. But the showpiece is the wine cellar, created from a void behind the kitchen. The site of many a dinner party, it’s stocked with their grandmothers’ garments and other slightly tongue-in-cheek items – an antique wedding dress, fur stoles, hats – and oodles of Champagne in a glass cabinet.
This is a house designed for entertaining. Stacking doors are pulled back between each space to enable an easy flow between the lounge, courtyard garden, entertainment room, patio, kitchen and its own adjacent conservatory. The courtyards and downstairs braai area with its strip of garden make outdoor living possible even on Cape Town’s windiest days.
An angelic icon from Argentina, a Valentine’s gift, stands guard over the dining room. The table is from OnSite Gallery, the chairs are from Colonial Antiques and the mirror is from Koöperasie Stories.
The formal dining room is rarely used, they admit, for it’s the kitchen where ‘everything happens’, where guests stir sauces and drinks are poured and everyone gathers around the long table to talk and eat. ‘In the kitchen, we wanted lots of space with cupboards all around it. And yet, if you take all the icons away, it really is simple.’
Repetition carries a sense of structure and stability throughout, seen here in the passage pillars and the lights, from OnSite Gallery, over the kitchen table. In every room objects with a story and a weathered patina, such as the framed mirror from Brocante Society and the copper pans from Obelisk, add warmth and character.
Indeed, the kitchen essentially consists of a large central island with a separate scullery and a walk-in pantry. Topped with Caesarstone, the spacious island houses a signature installation featuring copper pots and pans, memorabilia and whimsical icons, including a hefty marble angel that required four people to lift it into place.
‘Fortunately, spending 15 years together has given us the opportunity to hone our own style. For us, no decision is ever purely functional,’ they laugh – hence the stuffed reindeer head in the kitchen. If you happen to be standing in their kitchen at night, look out for a ‘lucky’ special effect: thanks to a series of juxtaposed mirrors, the twinkling harbour lights are reflected from the patio through the house to a mirror right in front of you – an unintended touch of decor magic.
19th-century portraits from Coco Karoo (021-797-9528) create an old-world tone in the guest bedroom. The bed is from Gister, the bedside table is from OnSite Gallery and the embroidered quilt is from Woodstock Vintage (021-461-1098).
This article was originally published in the HL April 2016 issue.
See the fascinating Mexican estate that inspired this home.