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Cabinet of Cool

Cabinet of Cool

A delightful Art Deco villa in Cape Town features a unique mix of vintage treasures and cool collectibles.

Lived-In Style

Some houses simply aren’t like the rest. Take this home, located in one of Cape Town’s oldest suburbs. While the house is a venerable 100 years old this year, it’s quite unlike the dwellings around it because it isn’t built in the typical Cape Victorian style that is so ubiquitous here. Rather, it’s a charming early example of Art Deco style, complete with fluted detailing on the facade and a clean-line, geometrical form.

The tenants Rupert Smith, co-owner of a visual merchandising studio, and artist and curator Robin Kirsten, have polished up this once rather neglected gem with sensitivity and stylish verve. While the couple reveal they would very much like to purchase the property, its current owner isn’t yet keen to sell – but did give the duo carte blanche to update its interiors. “He said, ‘The house needs some love and attention’,” explains Robin. 

As a result, over the past couple of years, Rupert and Robin have gradually renovated, upgraded and furnished the interior spaces, albeit without being able to make any major structural changes. The house had been “typical student housing”, says Rupert – unsurprising as the area is close to the University of Cape Town’s medical school and has been a student haunt for decades – and as a result, had a neglected garden, “stuff everywhere” and “purple and green walls”, Rupert adds. 

Robin and Rupert made a few key interventions before moving in. These included painting almost all of the interior walls white, and removing some unsightly pine wall-mounted cabinets in the kitchen. The remaining original built-in kitchen cabinets were painted white too, and given new minimalist black knobs and drawer pulls.

Since moving into the house just over two years ago, the couple has greatly improved the flow of light through the interior via the ingenious replacement of the old interior solid wood doors with versions containing large panels of fluted glass – a perfect tie-in with the home’s Art Deco architecture.

In the study, the couple has also been able to remove the ceiling, exposing the beautiful old wooden trusses up to the full height of the roof, and adding a further dimension of space and light – as well as a distinctly vintage feel. Here, as elsewhere throughout the house, Rupert’s signature interior style comes into play. A great lover of vintage vitrines, as well as a collector of period furniture and decor objects, his aesthetic is a considered combination of unusual and quirky items with second-hand-store pieces.

Inside all the glass display cabinets (there is at least one in almost every room in the house) are curated groups of objects ranging from vintage taxidermy pieces to a pile of old glass fishing floats. The mix feels effortless, in spite of the fact that these collections take years – and, of course, a genuinely discerning eye – to assemble. As with the glass cabinets of curiosities and treasures, every room in the house includes greenery, including a riotous profusion of potted plants as well as bold groups of foliage placed in eye-catching vases of all shapes, sizes and materials. 

Overall, the result is a home that has an easygoing atmosphere of coziness and everyday pleasure. “This is a really sociable house,” says Robin, and it is easy to see why – not only is there an inviting flow between its various rooms, but also, every space has its own special atmosphere created by its unique mix of furnishings and objects. Whether that social gathering is an intimate autumn dinner party or a relaxed summer soirée, this is a home that, above all, offers a welcoming embrace to its many happy guests as well as to its quietly contented residents. 

 PRIVATE TIME. “Once you close the front gate,” says Rupert, “you’re in another world.” Fully grown trees and a tumbling mix of plants chosen and tended by Robin, frame the symmetrical Art Deco portico and facade of the house. The custom-designed security gates at the front door were installed by a previous owner and work beautifully with the geometric style of the house. Both the cats – including Luci, who is seen here on the front steps – very much enjoy the outdoor spaces, as do the couple themselves, “Especially in the summer!” says Robin.

 PERFECT PAIRING. Art Deco detailing in the hallway; beyond it in the main living room, a spindle-back chair by James Mudge flanks a vintage wooden sideboard. Atop it is a large glass vessel from Wauhaus as well as a selection of ceramic candleholders by Jade Paton. 

ON DISPLAY. A pair of oversized windows – probably the result of a structural intervention made by a previous owner of the house – allows plenty of natural light into the living room. The room includes a built-in open fireplace and several of Rupert’s beloved vitrines: this one currently displays a taxidermy crow from Mandibles and a group of old glass fishing floats found at Milnerton Market. The large urn on top of the cabinet is from Wauhaus and is itself placed on top of a vintage wooden plinth found at an antique shop in Simonstown. The black leather mid-century armchair and couch was sourced from Ride a White Swan, and the Persian rug was purchased at auction.

RUSTIC VIBES. The kitchen is one of the rooms featuring a corner window, and still has its original built-in cabinetry, which Rupert and Robin painted plain white. They also installed the splashback, using tiles found at a shop in Kalk Bay. Visually arresting vignettes are seen everywhere in the house, including in the kitchen. Rustic wooden bowls in multiple shapes and sizes, collected over the years from markets and vintage stores, add natural texture in the kitchen.

HANG IT UP. Open shelves and hanging storage in the kitchen allow for the everyday display of the couple’s wide-ranging collection of wooden chopping boards, cookware and other kitchen accessories. The large stove – ideal for cooking for a crowd – is by Smeg

EAT IN. Adjacent to the kitchen space is a petite kitchen-diner, which is furnished with a vintage table, a mix of wooden chairs and a rustic bench – all from Wauhaus – and two crystal chandeliers found at Milnerton Market. The glass-fronted wooden cabinet is from Onsite Gallery

MIX + MATCH. Light-filled and inviting, the main dining room features a metal table from Wauhaus and a mix of vintage wooden chairs inherited from Robin’s father; the vintage Persian rug was purchased at auction.

OPEN SPACES. With its exposed roof trusses and plethora of indoor plant life, Rupert’s study feels delightfully spacious and airy, and is furnished with a rustic wooden table and bench. A vintage task light illuminates Rupert’s current paint-by-numbers project, and the ceramic pendant lampshade is by Wiid Design. A steel-framed vitrine contains a selection of vases, vessels and colorful acrylic paints. 

OUT OF THE ORDINARY. This artwork, by Jana + Koos, was a birthday gift to Rupert from a close friend, and is displayed atop an old metal storage cabinet.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS. Having removed some old paint and plaster from the main bedroom wall during their renovation project, Rupert and Robin “fell in love” with the exposed textures and decided to leave it as is. The beautiful carved wooden bed was purchased at auction and the occasional table used as a bedside pedestal was found at a flea market.

DRAMATIC STROKES. The exceptions to the all-white interior paint color rule are the two bathrooms, which are finished in a deep, atmospheric shade of green called Seaweed, which was mixed especially for the spaces by the couple’s friend, decor stylist and art director Shelley Street .

LUXURY AWAITS. In this bathroom, the vintage urn was found at Milnerton Market, the ornate mirror is from Wauhaus and the crystal pendant light was purchased on a trip to London.

PHOTOS Warren Heath/ Bureaux
WORDS Robyn Alexander
STYLING Shelley Street