Two items topped Christopher Osborne and Ruan Botha’s wish list when apartment hunting in Cape Town’s city centre: an open-plan space offering more intrigue than a rectangular box, and plenty of room to accommodate their love of entertaining. What they found after eight months of pavement pounding was a meandering, multilevel apartment – eight levels to be exact, spread over four buildings – with enormous potential. But it needed work. ‘This is the sort of apartment that you want to look around and explore,’ says Christopher. ‘It lures you in. But when we first viewed it, it was in bad shape.’ Ruan adds, ‘It was a porn-star pad. The kitchen featured neon blue amenities, while the bathroom was in neon red. There was even a Jacuzzi. All that was missing was a disco ball!’
The pair tamed the place by replacing all the downlights, installing Siberian oak floors for warmth, and repainting the entire apartment off-white with grey tones, including the heavy black ceiling beams that seemed to weigh the space down.
For Christopher and Ruan, who entertain up to three times a week, home life revolves around the kitchen island. At a generous 2.8×1.2m, theirs was custom built to enable six people to sit opposite the working side while interacting with the chefs. A summer feature is the wall of kitchen windows which slides and stacks completely to allow the outside in. ‘We’re in the kitchen so much, challenging ourselves with adventurous choices from our favourite cookbooks, that we wanted friends to be able to join us on the journey,’ explains Ruan.
Peppering the walls of the apartment is Ruan’s collection of works by befriended artists. ‘I like abstract, graphic and thought-provoking pieces,’ he says; ‘something that stimulates – a painting you can look at two weeks later and see something new. It’s difficult to get tired of a work that has lots of detail.’ Among his favourites are Marlise Keith’s beautiful illustrations and Simon Stone’s provocative works that masterfully create intrigue with a distortion. But perhaps his most prized possession is Alexis Preller’s last painting, entitled ‘The Sweet Bird of Youth’.
Moving from a suburban home meant giving up a huge backyard, so the expansive and multilevelled terrace was a drawing card. ‘What sold us on the apartment was its outside space and the opportunity for a garden and outdoor entertaining,’ says Ruan. ‘We’ve easily accommodated 50 friends,’ adds Christopher, ‘but because of the various levels of the apartment both inside and out, it never feels crowded.’ Flanked by two Dutch gables, the terrace is spacious enough for two dining tables – one open-air, the other sheltered. The garden is a source of pleasure, not only to them but to passers-by in the overlooking lobbies, who call down for succulent fruit from the five lemon trees. ‘I’m sure they’re delicious but we keep them on the tree for their ornamental value,’ laughs Ruan.
But perhaps the historic ‘golden dome’ (the copper presently painted over) is the apartment’s most unique attribute. Currently underutilised as a storeroom, visiting friends are never short of suggestions on how to maximise the circular space inside. ‘We’ve heard everything, from a recording studio to a buzzing bar to a chilled Moroccan lounge stuffed full of pillows,’ says Christopher, ‘but either way you’d be inside and would miss out on the beauty of the city coming to life at night. There’s something magical about rooftop living between the city’s lights and the night sky’s stars.’
Originally published in HL Jan/Feb 2015