Text Graham Wood Styling Sherri Chipps Photographs Elsa Young
The owner of this chic, clean-cut Parktown North home loves the 1950s and 1960s architecture of Los Angeles, Palm Springs and West Hollywood. He is fascinated with the way American modernism still looks effortlessly fresh and up to date. It exemplifies a certain easy-living style that Jo’burg and LA have in common: light-filled rooms, sparkling pools, and connecting interior and outdoor spaces. While Johannesburg’s mid-century brush with modernism had a more intellectual, European flavour, its sunny climate, well-treed landscape, suburban pockets (each with its own distinct character) and clamour of architectural styles all conspired to convince the owner that it was the perfect place to reinterpret LA style.
He created an airy, ordered house with floor-to-ceiling windows and glass doors throughout, all opening onto the garden. A lap pool runs alongside the veranda – a cool relaxation zone complete with hanging, egg-shaped wicker chairs. Much of the downstairs living space is designed with entertaining friends and throwing parties in mind – the long dining-room table frequently accommodates up to 20 guests.
As Julia Twigg, the interior decorator who ‘added the finishing touches’ to the decor, says, ‘The house is designed so that it’s very easy to mooch from the kitchen to the dining room and then out to the veranda. The parties here seem inevitably to drift outside.’ The dining room, lounge and gallery doors can be thrown open onto the veranda so that separate areas of the house connect, creating a sense of unity and cohesion. In winter, the house can be closed up, and the generous double-sided fireplace keeps the sitting room and dining room cosy.
‘I live in the lounge next to the fire in winter,’ says the owner. He is a keen art collector, and the house is designed with lots of space to accommodate his growing collection. The dining room leads onto a bright gallery where pieces by William Kentridge and Deborah Bell have found their place. Throughout the rest of the house, pieces by Simon Stone, John Meyer (a favourite for his evocative narrative pieces), Walter Meyer and even a small Eduardo Villa make appearances. The study, in many ways the heart of the home, is a self-contained, quiet area. The owner spends a good deal of his time there, so it was important that it felt connected to the rest of the house.
Julia says, ‘You feel part of the house wherever you are. The whole thing is open – there are no secret passages; nothing is cut off.’
The upstairs area, however, is completely removed from anything to do with work. It’s a private sanctuary: bedroom, dressing room, TV room, and a balcony with sitting area overlooking the tops of the 15 leopard trees the owner planted to fill out the garden and connect it with the tree-lined streets outside. ‘When it comes to decor, I’m not interested in having a fixed style or theme,’ he says.
‘The contents are merely a collection of things that I love … little pieces representing all my favourites.’ Much of it is inherited, some of it collected over the years, some introduced by Julia. The beautiful Chinese screens in the nook housing his piano, for example, are from his great-grandparents.
‘They were in China during the Boxer Uprising,’ he explains. ‘These are from the Summer Palace.’ The owner is enthusiastic about local designers: Gregor Jenkin furniture, Willowlamp chandeliers, Anthony Shapiro ceramics, and Jenny Gifford textiles share floor and wall space with traditional African artefacts. ‘Design in South Africa is going through a golden period,’ he says. ‘Our designers are doing incredible stuff.
They are capturing something true to this place and time.’ In this home, despite the variety of influences, nothing looks cluttered and everything has its place. Wild parties might be accommodated here, yet an easy masculine calm prevails. Perhaps that’s LA’s gift to this corner of Johannesburg.
OWNER’S HOME TRUTHS
Best thing about living where you do? The trees and the street-cafe culture. Jozi has no sea, mountain or obvious natural beauty that draws one to it, but we’ve created this spectacular man-made forest, and living in the midst of it and the bird life it’s encouraged is awesome.
How do you define style? That’s hard – it’s necessarily eclectic and always in the eye of the beholder – but I’d say style is the visual expression of a passion for beauty.
Favourite architectural style or design era? I love the architectural and furniture designs of the post-World War II modernist era. They combined simplicity in design – ditching the elaborate approach of earlier eras – with practicality, resulting in an elegance never seen before.
Your favourite room? My study, because of its location in relation to the rest of the house and because it contains a collection of all my treasured possessions: the first piece of art I bought when I was 21; all my photos and books; my grandfather’s binoculars dating from World War II (and his father’s binoculars dating from World War I).
What’s your entertaining style? As eclectic as my house. I have plenty of small intimate dinners, and I also throw large parties with up to 100 people. The house lends itself to both.
Your signature dish? Fillet (I cook the best – even if I say so myself ) and brinjal bake.
Favourite travel destination? It would have to be a place where something is happening: the carnival in Rio; the opera in Verona; the art biennial in Venice; the opening of an Andy Warhol retrospective in New York; a rock concert at LA’s Hollywood Bowl. Your favourite shop? 10 Corso Como, Milan.
This article was published in the May 2010 issue of House and Leisure.