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luxurious joburg home


Text Graham Wood Styling Leana Schoeman Photographs Patrick Toselli WHO: ASTRID VAN DER HEIM WHERE: JOHANNESBURG SIZE: 145M2 Johannesburg-based interior decorator Astrid van der Heim lives in her Killarney apartment with the kind of grandeur and poise you’d expect to work only in a much larger home. ‘I have a very traditional way of living,’ Astrid says, referring to the sense of ritual and propriety with which she likes to conduct herself, even if it’s something as simple as serving tea or having a meal. She likes to have high tea or drinks in the sunroom, dinner in the dining room and coffee in the lounge afterwards. There’s a place for everything, and everything is in its place. ‘I enjoy having different living areas, even in a small space,’ she says. ‘Being able to spread out is important for me.’ Astrid moved in to her apartment five years ago, painted it completely white –‘so I wouldn’t see all the lines’ – and lived there for a year before changing anything. ‘It gives you a sense of how to live in a space,’ she says. She paid attention to the movement of the light through the rooms, how it brightens at certain times of the day or creates a moody atmosphere at others. This connection to the natural rhythms is fundamental to her philosophy of seasonal living. She didn’t change the interior significantly: ‘For me, it’s very important to preserve the soul of a place.’ The apartment block was recently declared a national heritage site and Astrid was aware of its unique styling and details. She did change the layout slightly, opening up the bedroom and creating a scattered lounge. ‘I preferred to have the living space at the front of the apartment where it is light,’ she says. This new configuration also helped her link the living areas. Although she has a love of fabrics and their colours and textures for their own sake – ‘I love velvet, silk, linen’ – they also play a part in creating the plush peace and quiet in the apartment. The distinct lack of harsh echoes and the luxurious soft touch of the fabrics, carpets and upholstery add an opulent sensory dimension to the rooms that is often more important to their sense of comfort than size is. While her living space is peaceful and ordered, Astrid is no minimalist. She’s a collector, a rescuer of abandoned objects – or ‘a hoarder’, as she would have it. ‘We live in the throwaway generation,’ she says, but Astrid is governed by the opposite impulse – to preserve and perpetuate the lives of beautiful things, especially handcrafted pieces from past eras. The craftsmanship that went into the elegant Georgian furniture, silverware, light fittings, crockery and ornaments that she has amassed has a profound meaning for her. Astrid’s collections are carefully curated. Shelves, cabinets and surfaces everywhere display objects she’s inherited, others evoke meaningful moments in her life, and some have sentimental associations. Some she simply fell in love with or they have sparked a sense of recognition. ‘This is a collection of junk that has become something else to me,’ she explains. ‘Memory and sentimentality are very important: that’s why I try to keep the pieces that have done the journey with me.’ Her awareness of the rhythms of life, her home’s connections with her own past and its broader sense of history are at the root of Astrid’s apartment’s sense of calm. Perhaps what is most essential is the way that the space is configured to echo the patterns, rituals, and lifestyle of its owner, at the same time created by them and perpetuating their graceful formality. Van der Heim Interiors International, 072-477-4400, email vdhinteriorsintcc@vodamail.co.za ASTRID’S HOME TRUTHS I wouldn’t describe my style as a ‘style’. It’s about my own taste and how I want to live my life. I collect objects with stories, vintage souvenir travel dolls, mementoes. I pick up a lot of things because I can’t stand to see them unappreciated and not cared for. Collecting is my way of preserving the value of things, not only from a financial point of view, but in terms of their beauty. My best piece of design advice is, wait for the right piece – I avoid instant decor. Create a heritage, where possible. When it comes to small, interlinked areas, I feel that having textures and softening is necessary; you need some sort of layering to absorb the sounds of city living. It’s interesting that you can fit so much into a tiny space. My favourite architectural style is Georgian: the proportions and honesty of the spaces inspire me. Books, poetry and music are friends – I need to be able to feel them, smell them and see them. My dream travel destination is Japan. Although it’s very minimalist, I love the tradition, the respect of the Japanese for everything that they have and their standard of excellence. It’s beautiful. When entertaining, I’ll serve you the first drink; after that you’re part of the family and you help yourself. I’m known for my cocktails and my high teas with cucumber and salmon sandwiches, and cakes. My secret talent is archery. It was a great passion of mine: I earned provincial colours. Top of my playlist right now are Françoise Hardy and Michael Bublé. I’m also listening to the soundtrack from Hable con ella – it’s quite haunting. This article was originally featured in the March 2012 issue of House and Leisure.