design, Interviews

style profile: john jacob zwiegelaar

Elsa Young
john jacob Well-known for creating highly bespoke, glamorous work underpinned by attention to detail, John Jacob Zwiegelaar has successfully headed John Jacob Interiors since 2005. We chat to him about his backstory and inspiration for his bold and luxurious interior design style. I was brought up on a farm in Elgin. My mom had the most amazing garden and house. She took us on trips to Europe to show me, my brother and sister gardens and architecture, the most memorable of which was the Château de Villandry in France’s Loire Valley. I believe that your creative conditioning as a child can massively shape your future. My childhood resulted in my passion for what I do now. From 10 years old, I was seriously into cooking and then, at 15, my interest in landscaping grew and I’d spend hours drawing a pool design or obsessing over tree positions in the garden. One of my favourite gardens is Hidcote Manor Garden. It’s one of the earliest examples of formal garden design in England, and is based around creating rooms with planting and screening so that you are led into different, unique areas. Fewer ideas and more confident planting create impact and power. Like anything in life, when you distil an idea, it has more power. When you don’t know what to focus on and try to express it all, it has less power and clarity. My earliest memories of beautiful interior design are of our house. My mom had talented people help her put it together, so I learnt about simplicity and restraint. Choose one thing – like a painting or sculpture – and make it the hero of the space. Or if you introduce pattern with fabric, give it room to shine. My design awakening happened when I was 11 years old. We went to see the fountains at the Palace of Versailles, and the scale and beauty of everything touched me. In the local interior design world I think Stephen Falcke, Cécile & Boyd and Graham Viney are incredible. I always thought that I’d work in hotels and restaurants. During my gap year after high school, I attended Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland. When I returned to go to the University of Cape Town, I realised that I was passionate about what went into the look and feel of hotels and restaurants as opposed to the actual running of them – I wanted to create them. My life is all about making environments for others. I treat all of my projects very differently depending on my clients and the buildings I’m working on. I don’t define any single concept as being ‘me’. It’s simply a passing idea for that project, and then I move on. I like to wear clothes that don’t wear me. I find the notion of dressing to stand out and make a statement unnecessary. My go-to comfort food is anything clean and simple – Asian soups and most Japanese dishes. My favourite restaurants in Cape Town are Villa 47, La Colombe, Saigon and Boschendal. I always travel with my camera. I love capturing and documenting new ideas. If money were no object I would build the most insane resorts and hotels, bringing together architects, designers and engineers from all over the world to realise some extraordinary concepts. I am currently listening to Keith Jarrett. All I need to make me happy is the freedom to express myself and the freedom to say no. Visit for more.