“It was when I saw this view,” remarks homeowner Francois Irvine, “that I knew I wanted to be in this space.” He’s in the process of unfastening a pair of white-painted industrial doors, dealing with old-fashioned full-length bolt – but these slide back with ease and in a moment the vista is revealed. His words immediately make perfect sense. The outlook is very much an urban one, but like many such views in central Cape Town, this view also includes seductive slivers of the beautiful natural landscape. Irvine’s view includes Kloof Nek, which lies just to the right of the looming bulk of Table Mountain, as well as one of the signature curves of Signal Hill.
It is against the slopes of Signal Hill that the home is situated in: Bo-Kaap, once known as the Malay Quarter. All the signature elements of this lively, historically important part of Cape Town stream in through the open doors of Irvine’s third-floor loft. From the call to prayer from a nearby mosque to the bustle that surrounds the nearby spice emporium (known as the city’s finest), the area is filled with energy – day and night.
While the Bo-Kaap’s signature Cape Georgian house façades are all about bright reds, oranges, pinks and greens, the interior of Irvine’s home is almost entirely monochromatic. Climb the three flights of stairs up to his loft at the top of a small industrial building (the first and second floors hold studios with small businesses) and you’re enveloped by an interior that layers multiple shades of cream and white. Punctuating the scheme are just a few darker elements, which provide subtle points of contrast.
The immediate effect is calming, tranquil and refreshing. “I’ve always loved these tonal off-whites,” remarks Irvine excitedly. “At work,” he adds, “I’m bombarded with color, so it’s great to have a more restrained, disciplined space here at home.” As the cofounder and co-owner of the renowned Cape Town design studio, coffee shop and gallery Haas, Irvine’s days are spent on the other side of town in a workplace filled with artworks, ceramics and products by a wide range of local creatives.
While it’s true that, as Irvine puts it, “neutrals always work together,” keeping the color scheme so controlled also means elements of texture and shape are thrown into sharp relief. The eye is liberated from the task of absorbing color and is drawn to other elements: the sculptural shapes of furniture pieces; the textures of the textiles used for upholstery; subtly carved decorative details; and plenty of evidence of the handmade.
“I’ve always been a bit of a collector,” admits Irvine, pointing out various treasured furniture pieces, as well as groups of collectibles that add touches of quirkiness here and there. After studying fine art, Irvine became an interior designer and spent many years regularly sourcing furniture from abroad – which was transported back to South Africa and used in his interiors projects here and internationally.
“My favorite places to shop are Ethiopia, Egypt, France and Greece,” Irvine reflects, explaining that it remains possible to find handmade furniture in Egypt and Ethiopia, where skills are still being passed down from one generation to the next.
Remodeling, upcycling, reupholstering – all have been part of Irvine’s way of working from the start. “I love used old pieces and I love recycling,” he notes. “And I hate wasting and throwing things away.” Describing the process of creating the dramatic yet unfussy interiors of the current Haas space, he says it was all about “improvising” the right look.
A sense of realness and authenticity are vitally important to Irvine’s creative process. “I still love doing interiors, but not as a job,” he admits, adding that he sees the same generic version of “good taste” everywhere these days. His own home is something of an accident or improvisation: it was originally his working studio, and he moved in some years after starting to work here.
The loft is a fairly large one, with the main living area – entered directly from the front door – taking up the vast majority of the floor space. A very long dining table immediately conjures visions of convivial parties, and there are several seating areas. There’s a place for in-depth conversation complete with enveloping armchairs and couches; a more intimate sitting area facing the view through the wooden doors; and finally, an elegant love seat close to the open-plan kitchen area – perfectly situated for chatting up the cook.
Leading off the main space, visitors can enter the kitchen (with a sliver of a guest bathroom tucked in behind it) and a guest bedroom, on the one side; and on the other, a more spacious main bedroom. West facing, this room is bathed in warm afternoon light year-round. Another bathroom and a workroom – which features a sewing machine, overlocker and other tools – also lead off the main living area. It’s in this workroom that Irvine still does his sewing magic.
His loft is filled with his own handmade items, ranging from the cleverly improvised white cotton lampshades to the elegant cream-upholstered armchairs where his three rescue dogs – whippets Ru and Kio, and the young and lively Italian greyhound, Willow – like to lounge before greeting visitors. This is a home in which the owner’s creative hand and eye are evident everywhere – even down to Irvine’s handmade dog jackets!
Photography by Warren Heath.
For more monochromatic interiors, check out this lakefront Texas home from designer Nina Magon.
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