‘My dream was always to live in Paris in an 18th-century apartment with modern furniture,’ says the owner of this double-storey house, located in a small complex tucked away in Atholl, Johannesburg. While the style of the complex is Joburg-Tuscan, the home is a carefully considered space where classic Euro chic meets today’s progressive South African design.
When the owners put in an offer for the house a few years ago, the only thing that appealed to them about their investment was its prime location. They had previously rented fully furnished apartments, so when they took ownership, they moved in without a single item of furniture – not even a bed. But the owner is an advertising art director, so attention to detail and design is part of her DNA, and she immediately set about reimagining the interiors and remodelling them into her ideal Paris-inspired retreat.
From the outset, the owners didn’t want to overcapitalise on the house, and opted to focus on effect by getting the basics right – such as installing wood-look herringbone tiled floors and quality fittings throughout. Then they introduced the details. Cosmetic structural changes saw pillars removed to create space, the kitchen reconfigured and larger windows added to let in more light. The real transformation, however, was in the decor.
Partway into the project, the owner called in interior designer Fanie van Zyl to help hone her aesthetic. ‘Good design is a balance of masculine and feminine,’ she says, and Van Zyl, who brings with him a wealth of industry knowledge, was able to help her achieve that. Over the course of almost two years involving close collaboration, they selected each item of furniture piece by piece from award-winning local design studios and premier decor retailers, as well as adding imported signature items. All of the textiles, timber and finishings for the furniture and soft furnishings were customised, and what couldn’t be sourced, Van Zyl designed himself and had manufactured specifically.
‘The owner had a very good idea of what she wanted,’ Van Zyl says, ‘and getting inside her head to understand her approach was a crucial part of the project. It’s always really important to capture a client’s style and essence. A home should reflect the owner’s personality so that when someone walks into it, the space feels congruent with the people who live there.’
The interiors draw inspiration from French architect Joseph Dirand, echoing his signature understated look. Marble is a key motif in the house, and when it is paired with plush textures and a restrained colour palette, the result is a luxurious and interesting abode full of character. ‘I love homes that look like museums,’ says the owner. ‘I’m obsessed with angles. Every angle has to look good.’ In the double-volume living area, vertical lines, muted tones, sumptuous textiles and contrasting materials interplay to achieve a classic yet contemporary effect. The modern, sleek black-glass and tarnished-brass coffee table from Tonic Design, for example, reflects the traditional white marble mantelpiece, while wood and ceramic vessels add another textural layer.
Art features prominently in the home, and both anchors and accentuates the decor. Van Zyl played a key role in sourcing pieces for the collection, which includes works by local talents such as Mia Chaplin, Alexia Vogel, Michael Taylor, Peter Eastman and David Goldblatt. Like everything else in the home, the artworks have been placed to harmonise with the surrounding furniture and space. In the dining room, Vogel’s ‘Way’ painting has been thoughtfully placed at the head of a Gregor Jenkin table, injecting the space with pattern and colour. The same can be seen in the living room, where Zimbabwean artist Dan Halter’s editioned linocut print ‘Domboremari (Blue)’ perfectly complements the navy couch and pair of marble-effect chairs by Anatomy Design for Southern Guild. A bright abstract work by Andrzej Urbanski rests on a fluted walnut server by Tonic Design in the entrance hall, providing a vibrant pop of colour against the charcoal wall.
The effect throughout is personal, tasteful and reveals a genuine appreciation of design and art. ‘I saw this house as an art project,’ says the owner. ‘I loved the process of designing and creating it.’