News and Trends

Retro Joburg Pad

Text Sarah Buitendach Styling Leana Schoeman Photographs Elsa Young  Johannesburg couple Alexia Walker and Luntu Sishuba had been living in the block next door when a flat in the landmark Killarney Hills building became available last year. ‘We jumped at the chance to buy it,’ says Alexia, adding that, although the apartment was in a slightly shabby state, a sprucing-up operation entailing removing old carpets, restoring parquet floors and breaking down a couple of walls gave it a new lease on life. Alexia and Luntu, both of whom have backgrounds in the music industry (and met at a hip-hop event), are kept busy running their brand activation and popular lifestyle culture agency What’s Phat. While they entertain a lot, they equally love simply pottering around their newly acquired home. ‘I recently spent the entire day lying on the bed, drenched in sunshine, reading a good book – it was bliss,’ Alexia says with a smile. Boasting a cool retro feel (it’s as though you’re walking through a portal straight into the sixties), the couple’s apartment is just made for relaxed living. Saarinen’s Tulip chairs sit atop a bright yolk-yellow carpet in a lounge with wooden panelled doors that open up onto a dining room accented by huge images of a tangerine sun setting over a tropical island. ‘We like to think we’ve restored our apartment back to the way it was originally meant to be,’ Alexia explains proudly. Built in 1960, the complex, with its pink folded metal balconies, is an icon of the Killarney skyline. Perched high above the rest of the suburb, with spectacular views that stretch as far as the Magaliesberg on a clear day, the building boasts a prime position. Not surprising, when you consider that it was originally built with the who’s who of Joburg in mind. As author Clive Chipkin puts it in his classic tome Johannesburg Style, ‘Killarney Hills … provided prestige flats for the upper classes of the 1960s. John Schlesinger and Julian Schlesinger occupied separate penthouse flats in this idyllic position.’ The Schlesingers were the hugely successful entrepreneurial family responsible for establishing Killarney’s famed film studios (which later became Killarney Mall) and who were, in part, responsible for spearheading the introduction of ‘modern’ Art Deco design in Johannesburg. So it’s no wonder that the building, designed by Monty Sack, is a sparkling example of both design and the latest mod-cons of the mid-20th century. The flat still has its original built- in Musicord sound system, which, says Alexia, ‘was the height of technology when it was installed – it has settings for old stations like Springbok Radio and, depending on the weather, you can still hear it piping Talk Radio 702 through the lounge.’ Both Alexia and Luntu have a real love for retro design and furniture so, of course, they’ve filled their home with pieces that boast the same vintage as their unusual sound system. ‘We’ve been collecting original pieces for years,’ says Alexia. ‘They just work so well with the apartment’s aesthetic.’ They may have preserved the apartment’s sense of provenance but they’re by no means stuck in a lifestyle time warp of any kind. Fundis of popular culture, their Dokter and Misses shelving unit (a contemporary, bespoke addition to the flat) heaves with an exceptional collection of books, DVDs and music. As sunshine pours in through the north-facing floor-to-ceiling windows, it’s as if their flat beams with a newfound pride. ‘Of course, there are still things we want to do to the space,’ says Alexia, ‘but we’re not in a hurry at all.’

Luntu and Alexia's Home Truths

The best thing about spring is the explosion of colours in Johannesburg and particularly in my ‘hood. Of course there are the jacarandas but also the bougainvilleas, hydrangeas and fabulous tree blossoms. To mark the new season, head down to the rose garden at Emmarentia for picnics under the cherry blossoms. We like that Kilnarey is a very well-looked-after neighborhood. Our favourite features of the apartment are its volumes and the views. But if we could make one change, it would be to renovate the bathrooms. Our style in three words? Space Odyssey Today. It ties in with our all-time favourite movie- 2001: A Space Odyssey, of course! My most trusted piece of design advice is buy what you really love, and go for comfort and simplicity. The décor detail we like most right now is our yellow carpet. We love to spend time at home entertaining our friends. My best seasonal dish is artichokes; we steam them and dip the leaves in olive oil, lemon and salt. Our dream holiday destination is  anywhere in Japan. Top of my spring soundtrack is…anything by Roy Ayers-such beautiful and soulful tracks. This article was originally featured in the September 2011 issue of House and Leisure.