This is not your average double-storey house in the Cape Town suburb of Mowbray but then its owners, Conrad and Jeanne Botes, are not your average couple.
Conrad is an artist whose outrageous vision of the world has brought him international acclaim and a cult following in his homeland South Africa, initiated by his subversive comic book Bitterkomix with Anton Kannemeyer. Jeanne is a savvy Decor Editor, with a commercial-film-industry and art-teacher background. Though her husband’s creativity is all over the house that they recently renovated, she’s the real decor inspiration.
‘I listen to what the boss says,’ Conrad announces, a grin lighting up the cynical bearded features that appear in some of his most sought-after paintings, covered in devilish figures. ‘I offer practical solutions. Jeanne is the executive project manager.’
Pretty dilapidated when they bought it, the house has undergone quite a hard-core transformation, signalled by the battleship grey exterior and grey galvanised-steel fencing above the surrounding walls. The colour takes the house from conventional suburbia to a more cutting-edge level. They used a gentler shade of grey for the interior. ‘I didn’t want white,’ says Jeanne. ‘Light grey is a nice neutral colour. You can’t go wild with colour on the walls if you like pattern.’
The revamp was speedy. Dated arches vanished. Raw wooden floors and stairway were covered with high-gloss polyurethane. Standard light fittings were replaced with naked bulbs on looped black cord. One entire wall in the dining and kitchen area became sliding glass doors that open on to a large back garden shaded by a giant tree.
It’s an ongoing project with a refreshing lack of clutter but Conrad’s gleefully mocking artworks have begun to pop up all over the house, sometimes in the company of work by friends such as former Stellenbosch art student pals Anton Kannemeyer and Claudette Schreuders, and sometimes in solitary splendour like the two round glass paintings in the main bathroom that depict his comic vision of hell. ‘It’s a challenge to the old Afrikaner aesthetic I grew up with,’ he says. His rebellion includes decor conventions such as rounded corners. ‘For Conrad, furniture always has to have straight edges,’ adds Jeanne.
When it comes to furniture he’s a recycle king. His imagination runs riot the way it does with his wooden sculptures. One of his quirkier gems is the old dresser in the main bedroom that he restored, in which painted lions leap across fat diamond-shaped glass inserts in each door.
Conrad’s woodwork is not only recycled. He’s a carpenter. His speciality is glass-fronted cabinets in layered plywood carved in curvy deco shapes. One holds Jeanne’s collection of glam retro footwear, its glass door decorated with a huge high-heeled shoe, but his classics are his mermaid cabinets. They each have a winsome painted nymph on the glass door, and everyone wants one, including the couple’s princessy young daughter, Nell. She insisted her father make one for her bathroom.
On another stretch of turf altogether is the shabby old tool cupboard from his studio that he turned into a kitchen cupboard with new feet and cornice. Jeanne was so taken by the painted door doodlings she told him to leave them there.
A decor fundi inspired by the contemporary, Jeanne tends to collect pieces and fabrics she likes during her shoots and trips overseas. When Conrad’s work is exhibited internationally she goes with him. They’ve just spent time in Paris where she trawled her favourite decor shops Petit Pan and Le Touriste.
Inevitably her approach to decorating is more mainstream than Conrad’s. Yet what makes this house work is that, even though they inhabit different creative planets, they both enjoy the unorthodox and the spontaneous. The result is an energising home for all three.
This article originally featured in the April 2013 issue of House and Leisure.
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