IN LIVING COLOUR
By Sally Rutherford
Styling Sven Alberding
Photography Greg Cox
Combining vibrant colour and bold visual flair with clean architectural lines, this family home in Bishopscourt, Cape Town, is a classic study in the power of contrasts.
Stepping over the threshold of Kim Stephen’s gloriously colourful home in Bishopscourt, Cape Town, is like virtually inserting yourself into her plethora of gorgeous Pinterest boards. Vibrant colour is everywhere on those boards – they have names like ‘Perfect Pink’, ‘Tangerine Dream’ and ‘Yellow Love’. And yet these bursts of brightness are also framed within the crisp lines of Kim’s classic-yet-contemporary style, which includes nods to elegant architectural lines, beautiful fabrics and a few judicious touches of whimsy.
As seen in her Pinterest persona, so it is in Kim’s home. On the one hand, there is a sense of graceful classicism that includes a confident use of black and white (as Kim explains, the black and white ‘works as a foil to the vibrant colour – balancing and grounding it’); on the other there is that bold colour, which combined with a number of other strong individual choices, gives the scheme a dynamic energy.
The bright orange exterior of the front door, for example, opens onto a supremely elegant hallway and stairwell that features poured terrazzo floors and a textured charcoal wallpaper – as well as a tall potted palm tree and a number of artworks, including an eye-catching series of silkscreens by little-known South African artist Stephanie Watson. Dated 1974, they are gloriously colourful and reminiscent of the work of iconic South African Artist Walter Battiss – Kim spotted them in an antiques store in Wynberg, she says, and instantly loved them. Now encased in white contemporary frames, they are a good example of the confidence and ease with which she makes decor decisions.
Another reflection of Kim’s penchant for classic elegance is the architecture of the house, which she describes as having ‘Georgian lines with modern edges’. Before the structure was completely renovated three and a half years ago, it was a simple, quite rustic A-frame shape – difficult to imagine now. Kim, her husband Graham and their son, Jamie (10), lived here for seven years before the remodel and Anna, who is three, came along in its immediate aftermath.
Kim also cleverly uses colour to balance strong architectural elements in her spaces. A good example of this is the dark green paint colour she chose for the built-in kitchen cabinets; an unusual selection that works to offset the visual power of the charcoal-framed, wood-burning fireplace at the other end of the open-plan living-dining-kitchen space.
This open-plan area is the everyday heart of the house, and it is made even more family-friendly by having a colourful kids’ play area situated just off the kitchen space. While prepping a meal, it’s easy for Kim to supervise homework or just keep a quiet eye on what the children are up to.
Beyond the kids’ area is a beautiful indoor-outdoor living space that was added to the house during the renovation. Reminiscent of the extensive patios and terraces that are in widespread use in Durban and Johannesburg (Kim has lived in both of these South African cities as well as in the Cape) but are still relatively new to Cape Town houses, this ‘outdoor room’ can be closed up during more inclement weather or completely opened to the elements during the city’s long, hot summers. With another custom-made terrazzo tiled floor (the tiles, Kim says, are exactly the same as those used at the renowned Oyster Box Hotel in Umhlanga, just outside Durban – she tracked down the original tile press in northern KwaZulu-Natal).
The patio area adjoins the garden and an inviting square swimming pool (as well as a marvellous wooden jungle gym for the kids featuring a slide that runs directly into the pool) and the views here are spectacular. Imagine an uninterrupted vista of the side of Table Mountain above Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden; it's a typically Bishopscourt view and gives the entire property a real feeling of expansiveness and freedom.
The garden also reflects Kim’s key style as a designer: it again combines classicism with a touch of quirk. She describes the landscaping, both accurately and wittily, as being that of ‘a formal tropical garden’ and explains that it’s inspired in part by the formality of the work of Australian landscaper Paul Bangay, but also by her own childhood, much of which was spent in the tropical climate of Durban. There are exuberant elephant ears contained by a narrow, clipped, formal hedge, and an elegant square of lawn.
Across the front of the dining and living space are French doors that open onto an uncovered, narrow terrace. It was going to have a pergola over it, says Kim, until she substituted that idea for the four huge grey planters, with lime trees in them, which adorn the space. It’s a boldly elegant idea that creates a much more modern feel than a pergola would – and the trees provide a great supply of limes to boot.
The family’s bedrooms (as well as Kim’s petite home office, which features a fresh green ombre wallpaper by Designers Guild) are all upstairs. All these first-floor rooms lead off a hallway that has been furnished as a casual pyjama lounge and features a glorious view across Cape Town towards the distant Durbanville hills.
Anna’s bedroom is gorgeously pretty, with bold horizontal pink stripes on the walls that enlarge and open up the space, while Jamie’s room, by contrast, is bold and graphic: one wall features Cole & Son’s Frontier Tile wallpaper in black and white and another is painted black – as well as a wooden four-poster bed and a large, glass-fronted cabinet that displays his toys and books.
The main bedroom is more muted in terms of its use of colour (a splash of it was recently added in the form of new artwork above the bed) and the bathroom and dressing room have been deliberately kept separate from the bedroom rather than being typically en suite. The separation means that Graham, who travels a great deal for work, can get up and prepare to depart without disturbing anyone else in the house.
The guest suite and guest cloakroom are both on the ground floor, off the entrance hallway and along a passageway adorned with a large Slim Aarons photographic print hung above a bright green love seat. In the guest cloakroom, the gorgeous, leafy ‘Martinique’ wallpaper is used – Kim insisted on tracking down the original version of this modern classic wallpaper, the same as that famously hanging in the Beverly Hills Hotel.
The guest bedroom is decorated in restful, muted shades of oatmeal and sand, with a charming en suite bathroom that has its own little landscaped courtyard – and that Bishopscourt view – as well as custom-made terrazzo floors based on the same design as that used at the V&A Waterfront. Here, it’s rendered in smart black and white rather than the V&A’s greens and pinks.
Another characteristic feature of Kim’s home is the fact that there is almost no built-in furniture in the house. She says she prefers to avoid built-in items and instead uses cupboards, storage units and cabinets that are all individual – and mostly custom-made – pieces. As with other decor elements in the house, this could be read as quite an old-fashioned gesture, but Kim’s take on it feels extremely contemporary. One of the loveliest examples of this custom-built, freestanding furniture is the drinks cabinet in the dining area. Covered with a shagreen-textured vinyl decorated with a circular nailhead pattern, it is filled with beautiful glassware – as well as all the essentials for everything from cocktails to post-dinner digestifs.
Listen to Kim talk about her history as an interior designer and the way she went about creating her own space, and the phrase that comes to mind is ‘investigator decorator’. Her childhood experience of fabrics (Kim’s mother is Debbie Schuurman of Walnut Interior Fabrics in Durban, so she grew up around textiles of all kinds) obviously plays a part, but her visual style is also the product of meticulous research. She methodically tracked down all sorts of items she had envisioned as perfect for her home, ranging from those old terrazzo-tile presses to wallpapers, and unique artworks to custom-made furniture. The combination of such a careful, thoughtful approach with an innate sense of colour that reflects so much confidence and brio might be remarkable, but that just adds to the pleasure its end result affords.