Designer and sculptor Xavier Clarisse’s revamped veranda home in Durban’s Glenwood is as colourful as he is, and a showcase for his distinctive designs. Desks, shelves, mirrors and cupboards reflect his love of contemporary clean lines and old-school craftsmanship, and childhood fascination with hidden drawers, levers and pulleys.
Their polished execution speaks of his extensive studies in mechanical theory, technical drawing, product design and sculpture in his native France. Xavier then travelled widely as a freelance designer before settling in Durban five years ago with his wife, Suzanne, a merchandising director for a local clothing manufacturer.
Since then he has produced striking one-off pieces for private homes, design studios and restaurants, an extraordinary mechanical Protea sculpture for the presidential suite of Moses Mabhida Stadium, the set for the award-winning Neil Coppen play Abnormal Loads and, most proudly, a beautiful daughter, Stella, aged five.
There are elements of all of these in their home, which Xavier describes as a ‘work in progress’, tending to it when he can spare time between projects. He and Suzanne started last year by removing walls to convert what had been a small lounge, kitchen, passage, back room and veranda into an airy, interconnected work studio and living area that opens onto a tangle of tropical garden and sprawling city view.
Walls were painted a sophisticated grey called, aptly, Paris Pavement, providing a perfect backdrop to his creations and an extraordinary collection of disparate objects that have caught his artist’s eye and engineer’s imagination over the years. Suzanne has cleverly grouped them and a 1970s light box that was salvaged from a petrol station ‘somewhere in Europe’, where it displayed the changing price of petrol (today proclaiming ‘oui’), above Xavier’s studio desk.
Nearby, an opticians’ chart from his father’s medical practice has been combined with 1940s light switches to form a functional artwork. ‘I enjoy that the letters and light switches visually complement each other, and the switches provide a modern, synchronised way to control lighting throughout the house using beautiful old technology,’ says Xavier.
It’s his own designs that dominate, however, with their simple lines and subtle sense of humour. A gleaming glass-and-wood display case shows off Suzanne’s collections of cutlery and crockery ‘like jewels or chocolates’, and doubles as a kitchen preparation counter. On the wall behind, sections of sleek wooden panelling spring open to reveal a fridge, drying rack, store cupboards and other kitchen necessities.
In the master bedroom the bed cantilevers from a wall, appearing to float above the naked floor, and sliding doors of a massive builtin cupboard feature intricately crafted metal joints that are mini sculptures in themselves.
Stella’s bedroom boasts a lovingly handcrafted bunk bed with a ring-design balustrade ‘for her and her friends to peep through!’ It’s positioned to provide a view of a jaunty, retro light box in the passage displaying a photograph of Xavier and Suzanne. ‘Instead of a night light in her room, Stella has this just outside, showing that her mama and papa are near,’ he says happily.
Xavier’s passion was his first commercial line, called simply the ‘Durban Range’: fabulous palm frond and delicious monster-leaf lampshades precision cut from leather with stainless steel veins that can be bent and shaped at whim. They hang lushly above the kitchen counter, splashing the walls with a changing play of shadows in the summer breeze.
‘They are very Durban, oui?’ Oui, indeed.
This article was originally featured in the January/February 2013 issue of House and Leisure.
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