Posted: 05 December 2011
Text Hilary Prendini Toffoli Production Laureen Rossouw Photographs Jac de Villiers It was not a conscious decor move. But Otto and Maia du Plessis have spent more time than most in places like Lamu, the old island settlement founded by Arab traders off the coast of Kenya, and the Seychelles, where bronzesmith Otto has a client. These evocative colonial island influences run deep, and you’re aware of them immediately as you enter the couple's Simon’s Town home. The highly varnished dark, wide planks of the floors are offset throughout by the bright whites of much of the decor. All-white crewel fabric from India covers the living room furniture. The main bedroom is all white too, with an island-style hanging lamp of white shells. And on the stoep under the Nguni horns the furniture is all gently ageing wicker. Until about two years ago this was 1970s suburbia epitomised. Then Otto and Maia bought the house and brought in her father, builder Mica Naumann to help them rework it. Several walls and all the wall-to-wall carpeting vanished. Now, like the Lamu house of Monaco’s Princess Caroline where the couple happened to stay once, that Moorish feel of big white rooms, dark floors and intriguing textures and objets pervades. Even the fretworked bed in the guest bedroom comes from Zanzibar. In the living room a pile of pale scorpion spider shells from Lamu lies casually on a murky old pewter tray. Sun-bleached wild animal skulls perch on top of a dark desk. Filled with natural treasures and man-made exotica, the house has become an inspired family home for Otto and Maia and their three-year-old twins, Bay and Riley. ‘A house keeps evolving. That’s the fun of it,’ says Maia, a former stylist. ‘When you get new things, others go, like that old dresser of Otto’s in the living room. It’s too cottagey. It doesn’t fit. We buy things as we find them, things that appeal. I really like what I live with to have a meaning for us. The older things are, the better, even if they’re shabby. I don’t ever buy anything simply because it’s in fashion.’ Otto has similar views. ‘What I don’t like is when they show a house on TV where everything has been bought by a designer from a store we all know, and nothing has been personally chosen, or has a history. It’s so predictable. My worst is those stores that get 90 per cent of their stuff from the East and try to make it look African, instead of investing in work by locals.’ A craftsman himself, Otto owns the Bronze Age foundry in the Simon’s Town harbour, a few minutes’ drive from the house. William Kentridge’s 16 pieces for next year’s production of The Nose in New York are some of the designs Otto and his skilled staff of 30 have cast in bronze. Other major contracts have been a four-metre horse for the Dubai Mall, the bronze Book of the Constitution for the Seychelles government, and a hush-hush upcoming World Cup commission for the South African government. Somehow he has still found time to create some unique pieces for his home. The three bathrooms all have shell-shaped bronze washbasins that work well with the faux Venetian mirrors and crushed shells in the wall plaster.In the kitchen Otto’s bronze handles are on the cupboards and his miniature bronze tiles with Moorish motifs on the wall. Though the striking bronze mural at the entrance was made for the Design Indaba Expo, its spidery coral shapes seem to have been created solely with this unusual seafront house in mind. It’s just one of the couple’s many artworks. Otto’s favourite is the wooden man-baboon by Tami Kiti, a sculptor from the Eastern Cape to whom he’s given workspace at the foundry.Maia’s favourites are paintings by her friend Arabella Caccia, whose former thick white bull-denim curtains are now a feature of the guest bedroom. ‘A lot of what we have were gifts or scrounged,’ says Maia. ‘They’re all things that have a story for us. That’s what we like.’ Bronze Age, 021-786-5090, bronzeageart.com MAIA AND OTTO’S HOME TRUTHS A lot of things we buy are cheap but don’t look it. We find bargains at Weavers on Fish Hoek Main Road and Bbellamy & Bbellamy Fabrics (084-314-5741) in Muizenberg. We buy as much local food as possible. We go to the Stellenbosch market just for the locally made Toulouse sausage, which is great in a cassoulet, and the chorizo. Gogo’s (021-786-5767) in Simon’s Town has wonderful organic veggies, meat and biltong. Our entertaining style is casual. We have a pizza oven by the pool and most Sundays in summer this house is full. I do the dough and Otto is the pizza master. He also dives for crayfish, legally, and we have wonderful feasts. We recycle everything. We put all our recycling into a bag and the South Peninsula Municipality sorts it. This home was originally published in the September 2009 issue of House and Leisure.