A few of Peter’s favorite things: back copies of 1970s Vogue, a floral combination – ‘my favorite medley: a playful mixture of fake anemones and real foliage’– adorned by photographs, backed by the original, working, slate-green fireplace. Every available space has been dressed in memories.
The portrait of a lady on the left above the fireplace is by Cowan Dobson, in the manner of John Singer Sargent. The forest scene on the right is by South African artist Georgina Gratrix; above it is a work by Alice Goldin, a noted South African artist and close friend of Peter. The chair on the right is one of the original pieces created in the UK to commemorate the 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Peter discovered it by chance one day, when he was driving up Kloof Street in Cape Town and spotted it in a second-hand store!
The entrance to Peter’s Cape Town apartment sets the colorful scene for the quiet drama within: leaf-green and violet-pink was inspired by a visit to Gödölló Palace in Hungary years ago. During the 1800s, it was the summer home of the Austro-Hungarian Empress Elisabeth, who favored violet — both the flower and the color.
Paint specialist Freya Lincoln provided invaluable assistance in Peter’s quest for colors to echo those that he loved in the Gödölló Palace in Hungary. The floral blind was custom-made for him by a friend. The fabric on the favorite butter-gold sofa was bought in Istanbul.
What would you expect from the home of an art curator? The apartment of Christopher Peter, longtime curator-director of the Irma Stern Museum in Cape Town, more than lives up to expectations: within its compact frame lies a reflection of his enduring passions and his art-immersed past. It’s a bijou space with a big heart.
Peter’s artistic sensibility was shaped from childhood, which was spent between the family farm in the Eastern Cape and school in King Williamstown and Queenstown. “I used to love seeing the fashion plates in women’s magazines, from Rooi Rose to Jours de France. I devoured it – that lavish style, the beautifully coiffed women with hats and gloves, the dresses.” It was a happy upbringing, one that he credits with his enthusiasm for beautiful things, both natural and designed
From there, it was a short and obvious step to art school, where he became a proficient and enthusiastic student. His life at the Museum (some 38 years and counting) further shaped his taste: the Museum was once the Cape Town home of the late, internationally renowned South African artist Irma Stern, and it houses a permanent exhibition of many of her artworks.
When it came time to look for a place of his own, the seafront suburb of Green Point – one of the oldest in Cape Town – was a likely option. A few pockets remained untouched by the new steel-and-glass modernization that was taking place in much of the area, and in one of them he found a gracious Edwardian building, set in attractive grounds fringed by vibrant poinsettias. Its high ceilings, wooden floors, traditional fireplace and other old-world features made it a suitable fit for Peter.
The apartment was originally built as a collection of small rooms leading off a narrow passageway. Peter changed the configuration a few times with the help of designer Marco Helfer, until the apartment had been “completely turned around,” with a cleverly circular layout and a flow absent from its original form.
A sort of ‘Friends’ Gallery’: on display above the kitchen hob are ceramic platters, all handmade gifts from late friends such as ceramic artist Geoffrey Bullen-Smith.
In Peter’s bedroom, the ruby colored throw was bought in a small rural store outside Cape Town. Above the bed are works by female artists: Wendy Aziska, Helen Benigson, Alice Goldin and Liza Grobler, plus his own art-school work, of three debutantes at a ball. The carpet was originally a Turkish bedspread; beneath it is the apartment’s original wooden flooring. Peter decided against pulling up the old boards or painting them white because “the wood has its own enduring beauty.”
The 1940s Argentinian free-standing basin in the updated bathroom provides an old-world touch. To the right is a large walk-in shower (not shown) – where the kitchen sink used to be. Peter was delighted to source tiles in the correct shade of green.
The interior path of the apartment – from the small, brightly lit entrance hall, to the living room (which doubles as a dining room) to the book-lined second living area, filled with works by Chekhov, Jean Rhys and Katherine Mansfield – makes perfect sense. These are not distinct rooms, but firmly delineated spaces – stylishly separated by a sofa here or a recess there.
The original bathroom was, after judicious reconstruction, reincarnated seamlessly as the kitchen, which is surprisingly capacious despite its compact size.
The bathroom beyond is the true gem: its previous life as the original kitchen has been completely transformed. With deft plumbing alterations, a modern shower and a 1940s Argentinian free-standing basin, it’s both contemporary and classic.
Peter’s carefully curated collection of objects and mementos are lovingly displayed in backlit glass cabinets. Every piece has a story and a provenance worth recounting – from his travels (particularly to Turkey and Hungary, where the Gödölló Palace made a lasting impression on him) to treasured postcards, books and antique cups and saucers.
High ceilings throughout give the interior a sense of size that the apartment’s footprint belies.
The space provides a sympathetic setting for the myriad pieces from Peter’s life, reflecting his upbringing, interests and travels. There’s even a fur stole, echoing the old Cussons Powder advertisement.
“My history is all here,” Peter says, gesturing toward the library shelves overflowing with books and walls and display cases of memories and mementos. “It’s my jewel box.”
Photography Courtesy of Greg Cox.
Styling by Sven Alberding.
Like what you see? Get it first with a subscription to ASPIRE DESIGN AND HOME magazine.