A Life Aloft

A sober canvas of stone, brick and wood is brought to life with Button’s treasure trove of furniture she has purchased over the years.

The reclaimed factory windows that front the home accentuate the volume of the space inside and infuse the home with beautiful natural light.

With a home surrounded by trees, every window offers up a different glimpse of nature.

A hand-built, studio-like space, tucked into a tree-filled mountain, proved to be the perfect home for South African fashion designer Jenni Button to rediscover her passion for painting.

When house hunting, Jenni Button, the well-known South African fashion and interior designer, was looking for a refuge where she could paint, having previously studied fine art and recently rekindled her romance with oil paint. “My ultimate dream was to have a New York loft in a wild forest setting, and I never thought it would be possible,” she says, her petite frame dwarfed by the incredible loft-like space she discovered. “It’s like a big art studio.” She found this unique house on mountain slopes in Hout Bay, Cape Town with its immense proportions hand-built by the previous owner a decade ago.

While the bottom floor is essentially one large, open space, surprise features such as this fireplace, which can be found in the middle of the room, separate it into different living zones.

“A friend of mine bought these iron and rope chandeliers, and then realized her ceilings were too low for them,” shares Button. “She gave them to me, and I think they work wonderfully here.”

“As I walked up that driveway, I knew this was where I wanted to live,” recalls Button. The gate, incidentally, sports a sign that warns visitors “4×4’s only,” and reaching the house requires a hike up 40 coarsely cut stone steps. With its dominating reclaimed factory windows and simple silhouette, the home doesn’t reveal much of what’s to be discovered inside. It’s hard to capture the sheer volume of the space, but the word “cavernous” comes to mind – partly because it’s secreted into the side of a mountain and partly because it’s enriched with stone features, exposed brick walls and rough wooden floors.

Button laughs when noting that the house had many “Freddy Flintstone” features when she purchased it. Her initial focus had been on bringing the various elements of the two-level building together with a consistent stonegray palette – and of course taming the vast garden, which has taken up most of her time and energy.

Clearly, it has unlocked her creative juices; the large wall in the lounge area is freckled with portraits that she has painted. While the South African designer admits to an affinity for quite masculine design, her treasure trove of furniture suggests otherwise. A self-confessed magpie, Button’s portrait wall is flanked by an ornate, hand-carved antique door from India, and is surrounded by a compendium of Eames and Le Corbusier originals (design investments she made in her early 20s), Chinese cabinets and traditional country French furniture. “I can’t stick to just one style,” she explains. “I enjoy the juxtaposition of different influences and textures, and I think the items I have collected over the years work here because it is such an eclectic space itself.”

Steps from the living space lead into a mezzanine that is home to Button’s en suite bedroom.

Button’s dressing table overlooks the living area and the tree-filled garden beyond it.

Amidst the stark gray shades, taupes and neutrals is a persistent thread of bronze, copper and brass – a gleaming bowl here, a striking chandelier there. “I love the warmth and richness of these shades,” Button comments, “but I change my house around every couple of months. So you could come back and discover this wall is covered with acid yellow paintings. It’s the beauty of having a house like this, which is such a canvas.”

While the designer wishes she could spend her days painting with a Klimt-like view of vast trees overlooking the valley at the back of Table Mountain, her fashion business and growing interior design client base takes her into the city every day. However, weekends are spent painting or entertaining friends. Bar stools hug the distressed wood kitchen island, and the dining room table has tip-to-toe additions to make space for more guests. The half-moon tables, bought from a bric-a-brac shop in downtown Cape Town, “make the table longer, but also add interest,” explains Button.

“I bought the map that lies above my bed in Venice,” Button says. “I love how elongated and distorted it is.” Her bedroom features some of her other favorite items, including carved tables she had made in Indonesia, a Chinese screen and an antique Dutch daybed.

The copper bowl and taps in Button’s bathroom rest on a thick plank of natural wood. Set against the neutral studio-like space of the home, elements like these add texture and interest.

Always the tinkerer, she has plans to enclose the mezzanine floor, which is currently home to her en suite bedroom, with glass. She is also currently excavating a space to build a wine cellar, and dreams of building a studio behind the existing structure, which would provide her with further solitude and a canopy view of her “mad garden of trees.”

The view from her bedroom is also perfectly positioned to capture this leafy view, and no two days are the same. “When I wake up in the morning, the light starts pink and then turns orange and then fades into blue,” she describes. In spite of its stony form, this home always seems destined to be infused with color – either by Button’s hand or that of nature.

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