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Passion and Poison

Cape Town interiors duo Louis Steyn and Riaan le Roux recently went to Turkey on their annual decor treasure hunt to stock their import shop, Passion & Poison. HL couldn’t join in their eastern exploits, having missed the magic-carpet ride. Charlotte von Fritschen caught up with them in story and photograph form… When Passion & Poison owners Louis and Riaan take a month out of shop life to travel, it’s a busy time of antique scouting, and meeting with local craftsmen suppliers. “People tend to think our work is easy, but it isn’t,” says Louis of his job, which comprises travelling to exotic places to fill his shop with beautiful things he loves (we still need convincing). “It takes a lot of dedication and imagination,” adds Riaan. Waking at 7am, they spend most days walking and haggling. The latter is part of Turkish culture, Riaan tells us. “If you do not know how to do it, you will pay much more.” While stumbling upon non-commercial flea markets on their first trip to Turkey six years ago, Louis and Riaan often met with highly-skilled artisans.  Collaborating with them, these talented locals have led them down an inspiring path since opening their business - including a few hidden alleys in Istanbul. Indeed the neglected parts of the city are where they’ve discovered old hamam (bath houses) inhabiting fountains that collapse due to age.  They’ve bought up rare and often once-off pieces like taps, keys and urns. When tired of the bustling city, the pair head off to the countryside to meet with local weavers and ceramicists, who they commission to make original shop pieces. Riaan admits that they’re drawn to these skilled rural folk, “We’ve gotten slightly carried away and now we have the largest collection of Turkish ceramics in South Africa.” The biggest shop attractors are the Turkish mosaic lights. For crafters, these are very time consuming to make as each piece of glass is blown, cut and inlaid by hand. Also popular, the ‘evil eye’ beads are made from three layers of hand-blown glass, traditionally hung in Turkish entrance halls to ward off evil spirits. With over 40 in Louis’ home, his family is well protected - his two daughters have even turned a few into necklaces. Design concepts for their hand-woven scarves, wraps and fabrics are discussed by Louis and Riaan with weaving artisans, and are mostly reproductions of old Ottoman Empire textiles, with tulip and carnation motifs. While Louis emphasises that theirs is not a carpet shop, he is unable to resist stocking a few Turkish kelim, handpicked for unusual colour combinations and eccentric designs (of which HL’s favourite boasts large, acid-green parrots). Many of these 60-120 year old carpets were part of the dowries of Turkish women who sell them off. The end result of all this travelling and haggling is one of deep satisfaction. “Every item in the shop has a story behind it. Nothing is randomly bought,” says Riaan. They’ve let us in on the excitement of their latest finds - rare handcrafted ceramic bowls from Russia.  Now the proud purveyors of items from the far, far-flung east, it’s clear their collection is becoming as boundless as their art-filled passion for decor.   Passion & Poison is situated in the Hudson Building Showroom 2, c/o Strand and Hudson Street, De Waterkant, Cape Town. For more information, call them on 021-419-3840.