It’s difficult to believe that this family home was once a warren of enclosed, box-like rooms leading off a corridor so dark that you had to keep the lights on during the day. Now, when you walk through the glass front door of the Saxonwold house in Joburg, the first thing that hits you is light.
The crisp, white interior is awash with sunshine that pours through a glass wall, which sweeps the facade of the house and opens up the entire lower floor onto a clean-cut, sprawling garden. What was once described by interior designer and Generation founder Julia Day as a series of ‘very disjointed boxes’ is now a singular space that houses a couple, their two sons, and 11 rooms, which are often minimally separated by a fireplace or doorway.
Day’s use of understated colour, fabric and texture has resulted in pockets of livable function, but it is the curation of an impressive art collection that clearly defines each area. The informal lounge is all about Edoardo Villa, the entrance hall and staircase an ode to abstract figures by Cecil Skotnes and Egon Tania, and the main bedroom is enhanced by Anton Karstel and Christine Dixie images of children in washes of browns.
Although an investment banker, the owner insists that it was never his intention to make money from his art collection, saying that he buys only what he loves. Working with this philosophy and under the guidance of fine art curator Julia Meintjes, he has amassed a balanced collection of some of the biggest names in South African art, as well as some exciting up-and-comers found along the way. All but one piece – the very first artwork that the couple bought together – is African.
‘My wife and I were living in London at the time,’ the owner reminisces. ‘It was our first wedding anniversary, which is paper, so we went to an exhibition and bought a piece of art. It’s by an Italian artist who never really got famous.’ This small abstract work hanging in the couple’s bedroom is not the only piece of Italian craftsmanship in the house. Each room is filled with furniture by De Padova, the timeless Italian brand that famously reinvented Europe’s understanding of modern design.
Thanks to the company’s revolving set of designers – ranging from renowned Italian architect Vico Magistretti to Braun’s functionalist designer Dieter Rams and, more recently, Italian sculptor and furniture designer Xavier Lust – each piece is unique while holding the same design values set in place by the late matriarch Maddalena de Padova. It is this vision that unifies the home. ‘It’s not really deliberate or by design,’ says the owner. ‘I spend a lot of hours looking at designers that aren’t De Padova, but I always end up coming back to their simplicity.’
‘The trick,’ insists the owner, ‘to choosing the best pieces for your space – be it collecting art or finding the correct bed – is to be patient, and have the right people advise you along the way.’ And you can see it in this home, which is a definitive byproduct of the collaborative relationships that the owners have with the two Julias, who have been there from the start.
The pair bought the English cottage-like property in 2001 from the daughter of the retired couple who had designed and built the house in 1949. Day says that she has since counted nine renovations to get the space to where it is today, including a major overhaul in 2013 to reclaim the original natural flow of the home, which was accomplished with the help of architect Joe van Rooyen.‘Joe will say I’m obsessed with symmetry,’ says the owner. ‘It’s important, but I’m not obsessed, things must just fit together.’
The space is probably best described as such – open and considered, with the bones of the structure keenly mirroring the clean and uncluttered interior. When asked about the inspiration behind this, Day says that she likes to give her clients with high-pressured jobs a calm and neat space in which they can unwind after a long day. The owner’s answer is a little more direct than that: ‘My mother was a hoarder,’ he says, with a smile.