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La Dolce Vita

Text Leigh Robertson Styling Kerstin Eser Photographs Elsa Young Cape Town might be at its sexiest in the heat of summer, yet the city’s pulling power seems ever potent for a funloving international crowd in search of a glamorous new playground. With its gorgeous yacht-flecked shoreline, casual-cool lifestyle, cocktail bars and eateries that vie with the best in the world, seductive it certainly is. And no less so for the Italian couple who own this tall, dark and rather handsome house set high on the slopes of Lion’s Head in Fresnaye. Based in Lake Como (where the likes of George Clooney and Madonna own villas) and with houses in the Italian Alps, Monte Carlo, the Bahamas and Greece, among other locations, the 60-year-old tax lawyer and his fashion-industry wife did not need much convincing to choose the Mother City as their eighth home from home. The owner originally wanted to find a holiday flat with views, and enlisted the help of interior designer Alexandra Cousins, the Cape Town-based daughter of friends in Lake Como, whose background includes developing spas for her family’s hotel business in Italy. What she found was a showstopper house with a knockout vista of mountains, sea and city, and within 24 hours her client was won over. ‘He’s a creative, dynamic man with lots of life in him,’ Alexandra says. ‘This was going to be his playhouse, where he could come with his wife or friends and hang out.’ His only brief was ‘do as you think’, she laughs. ‘As long as his wife went “wow” when she walked through the door!’ Alexandra spent a year readying the house for its new occupants. Structurally, all that was needed were a few minor alterations and the inclusion of a Jacuzzi, steam room and outdoor shower. The interiors required more dramatic intervention. ‘Everything was beige, bland and boring,’ she says. The couple ‘live in different styles’ from one home to the next, and exude the kind of understated elegance that defines high-end Italian bon ton. She decided to go all out with this project (‘they were either going to love it or hate it!’), creating a cool, sultry, occasionally flamboyant look she describes as ‘Roberto Cavalli in Africa’. Her starting point was a shimmering mother-of-pearl and crystal chandelier found at a Constantia shop, and she set about trawling the city for treasures and having bespoke furnishings made up. ‘I love to source things and put them together, creating stories,’ she says. Inspired by a feature she’d seen in a nightclub, she bought 45 kilograms of seashells with which she plastered candelabras, mirrors, a French chest of drawers and a pillar. She mixed seainspired colours and coral ornaments with smoky mirrors, sheer curtains that float in the breeze and lashings of animal print, all contained within walls painted a deep, warm aubergine brown. ‘By night it’s a stunning party place,’ she says. Yet this home is as relaxed as it gets. ‘The owner likes quality things but he also likes a home he can live in and walk around barefoot in,’ she adds. When the couple and their friends are in town – there are two guest bedrooms upstairs and a guest suite on the ground floor, with the three floors connected by stairs and an elevator – it’s all about enjoying the best the city has to offer. On sunny days they’ll relax on the pool deck, and evenings will be spent exploring the city’s fine-dining restaurants – one thing’s for sure, Cape Town does la dolce vita very well.   Q&A with interior designer Alexandra Cousins Your ultimate desert island luxury? My husband, a bar of 95 per cent chocolate, a bottle of Dievole wine and a huge pile of magazines. And one of my husband’s amazing full-body massages – nothing compares. Your favourite city? Cape Town, of course! I love the beauty, the beaches, the mountain, and the fact that it offers international city life without feeling like a big crammed city. Your favourite building? I grew up in hotels and with hotels, so those are the buildings I notice. My favourite is the Badrutts Palace Hotel in St Moritz, but maybe that has more to do with the many happy memories I have of it. Which interior do you wish you’d designed? The G Hotel in Ireland – there’s nothing conventional about it. It’s loud, bold and full of personality. What’s your design style? I love contrasts and designing homes that tell stories and evoke emotion. I like creating a space that looks like it’s always been that way. I tend to mix masculine elements with feminine ones, and always bring in something unexpected. Your pet design hate? Houses that have no soul; that are put together just to look pretty but totally lack personality – they give me the creeps. What inspires you? Travel, whether an overseas trip or a road trip. Alexandra Cousins, 084-257-2938,   This article was originally published in the August 2010 issue of House and Leisure.