city, houses

A designer's treasure trove

Sarah de Pina


Marianne Fassler has lived in her home in Saxonwold, Johannesburg, for 40 years. ‘I moved into the house in 1976 when everyone else was leaving the country,’ she says. ‘It was cheap. And my parents live down the road.’

In the entrance hall of Marianne Fassler’s Saxonwold home, Art Deco influences are clear in the doorway, ceiling and windows. A chair by Geoffrey Armstrong sits beside a David Krynauw ‘Kas’ (davidkrynauw.com) In the entrance hall of Marianne Fassler’s Saxonwold home, Art Deco influences are clear in the doorway, ceiling and windows. A chair by Geoffrey Armstrong sits beside a David Krynauw ‘Kas’.

It’s the kind of late-1920s double-storey typical of the area. When she married her husband, Charles Bothner, they added to it to create more space, so their children could visit whenever they wanted to. ‘Charles and I are both entrepreneurial, so we work from home,’ she adds. So it has layers of old and new, of space for living and space for working.

The sofa unit Marianne jokes about dominates the main sitting area. On the right, the Simon Stone (simonstone.co.za) mosaic on the hearth and the Geoffrey Armstrong assemblage around the fireplace are just visible The sofa unit Marianne jokes about dominates the main sitting area. On the right, the Simon Stone  mosaic on the hearth and the Geoffrey Armstrong assemblage around the fireplace are just visible

The house has doubled as Marianne’s studio from the very beginning. ‘I used it because I had to,’ she says. As a single mother and young designer, she would use the dining room as her cutting room and work listening to music late into the night. At times she’s even used it to show her designs, clearing the furniture in the living area and using it as a catwalk. ‘Even when I had my shop, I still did a lot of manufacturing here,’ she recalls. Now she works there because she wants to.

As a home that blurs into a workspace – and as a home filled with family, friends, clients and her design team – there can be no redundant space. ‘There is not a single dead room,’ she says. ‘All of this house is busy.’

Marianne completely fails to see the point of a room kept behind closed doors. ‘Why have a home where all you do is sleep?’ So even if the dining room happens to be filled with her and Charles’ work, the kitchen has a long table where she and her team sit down for lunch every day. ‘I have used my house to its optimum.’

The table in the kitchen – custom-made by Antonie Grobler – is where the Leopard Frock team have lunch. The candalabra is from Ardmore’s first ever exhibition (ardmoreceramics.co.za). The table in the kitchen – custom-made by Antonie Grobler – is where the Leopard Frock team have lunch. The candalabra is from Ardmore’s first ever exhibition.

And because her home is so much part of her creative and work life, it’s possible to discern some of the central ideas that filter through into her fashion design. It’s filled with things that inspire her, and it’s an eclectic selection: art, design, craft, fabrics, books and calculated kitsch. The cutting-edge works of generations of artists have been layered into her home. The hearth is a Simon Stone mosaic – the first one he ever did. ‘I like it when an artist tries a new medium,’ she says. Around the fireplace is a Geoffrey Armstrong installation.

There are works by many of South Africa’s best contemporary artists, too, from Wayne Barker to Walter Oltmann. These pieces coexist with street craft that showcases an innovative use of materials and a reinvention of tradition through new media and circumstances. The tables are piled with books and ornaments – sometimes something beautiful or interesting she’s found or, often these days, been given. ‘People will bring things that they see as interesting,’ she adds. ‘There are lots of things that remind people of me. I like that they want me to have them.’

But Marianne’s home is characterised more by a sense of evolution than novelty. It’s a collector’s home. ‘This is not the house of a person who gets rid of things,’ she says. With the rich sense of layering, a kind of archaeology of style comes in. She laughs as she points out that the modern couch in the seating area was the first one she’d ever bought – and that was just a few years ago. She says people found her reupholstered Art-Deco furniture uncomfortable. But of course the originals have stayed too.

Marianne’s workspace, an extension of the house, is richly decorated with beadwork, an Art Deco wardrobe and the leopard-print motif that has become synonymous with her brand on carpet and upholstery. The raffia and silk organza dress is from her Autumn/Winter 2016 collection. Flanking the wardrobe are two paintings by Barbara Tyrrell. Marianne’s workspace, an extension of the house, is richly decorated with beadwork, an Art Deco wardrobe and the leopard-print motif that has become synonymous with her brand on carpet and upholstery. The raffia and silk organza dress is from her Autumn/Winter 2016 collection. Flanking the wardrobe are two paintings by Barbara Tyrrell.

‘I don’t know if I would ever want to redesign my own home,’ Marianne says. ‘I love the layers of history.’

And that’s what gives this home its character: a sense of time and experience, new ideas on top of old ideas. It is the springboard from which she engages with the world, her interests and passions: a space filled with life, and fuel for her creativity. ‘This is me,’ she says. ‘What you see is what you get.’ leopardfrock.co.za

This article was published in June 2016.