CULTURE CLASH

By Dominique Herman | Production Sven Alberding | Photography Greg Cox

Zebra print carpets from South Africa form a foundation for designer pieces from Europe, creating a dynamic interplay of colour, pattern and texture in this French family-owned Cape Town home.

After looking at a number of palatial South African houses featuring multiple living rooms and kitchens, a French family of six happened, aptly, upon a Provençal-styled home. Not only did it have a European type layout and the requisite number of living rooms and kitchens (one, respectively), it was near the schools in which they planned to enroll their children. And when you’ve got four children at three schools, proximity is integral.  

‘It was a very big decision,’ says the matriarch of the family, of her husband’s decision to sell his company and transplant their children. ‘We didn’t want to make a mistake’. 

In a subsequent whirlwind trip to Cape Town, they met with the builder and interior designer and then jetted back to Brussels where they were living at the time. And apart from one more trip at the start of the revamp and a check-up three months later, they proceeded to do the four-month decorating job via calls, weekly Skype sessions and emails. 

They found the interior designer, Andrea Graff, on the Internet. Andrea is one of South Africa’s top designers, known for her irreverent colour, texture and graphic pattern mash-ups. 

‘We had four months to totally strip this home, redo seven bathrooms, redo the entire interior of the home,’ she says. ‘Everything was planned meticulously before and we had the most unbelievable builder, Paul Wolpert.’ 

The time restriction was mitigated by an instant rapport between the owners and Andrea – a job she describes as ‘a total joint venture.’ ‘She’s possibly been the client that I’ve wished for my entire career,’ Andrea says. ‘She just got me. We did so many daring things. It was just a dream come true.’

For the couple, whose last house was a study in white, grey and black, they wanted ‘an easy living house’ – one that was practical for a large family. Despite that this was the fifth house they’d redone, including one in the bush in the north of South Africa, it was the first in an outdoorsy lifestyle place like Cape Town. ‘It was the first time that we had a house under the sun so we wanted a colourful house, a fun house. We chose Andy because we wanted colourful things and Andy is colourful,’ says the patriarch of the family. 

There are teal blue walls and carpets in the living area, bright yellow walls in the guest room, bright lime green walls in the boys’ bathroom, and a variety of black and white fabrics and tiles creating a kaleidoscope of pattern and animal print. ‘There is a continuity,’ Andrea says. ‘I love colour – there’s always colour. There’s always things that don’t match – but match. It’s about mixing and layering and not making it obvious and predictable.’

The owners wanted to bring all of their furniture and art from Europe but put none of it in the same place. These pieces were supplemented with local art and fabrics plus finds from Andrea’s stock of vintage and auction buys.

‘In South Africa our standard of upholstery, craftsmanship and selection of fitted furniture is completely on par with overseas standards, if not better. But to find the bamboo sideboard or the Lalique lamp or the old Maison Jansen table, we don’t have it here, and if the odd person brings it here it gets snapped up, so for me the opportunity to source and find things was just amazing.’

Originally from the north of France, the couple had visited Cape Town on holiday for 20 years.  Having lived in England, Spain, Asia and the United States, and most recently in Belgium for seven years, they wanted to give their four children the same international experience.
‘One day we just decided that we should move here for a better quality of life,’ he says. ‘I used to have a big job and working all day and all night, all week long, and now I’m breathing a little bit here. So now it’s different for me and also for the family because I see them everyday. The balance between your job and your personal life is much better. Here people stop working at 5/6, whereas in France people stop working at 8/830. Here it’s very sporty and everything’s outdoors, with the sea, with the mountain, the vineyards. You have 300 sunny days in a year.  In northern France we have about 300 days of rain.’

‘The sky there is just above your head,’ she adds. ‘Paris is a beautiful town but we’ve never lived in a beautiful country, and South Africa is a beautiful country. Everything is beautiful.’