Silence: Historical Homestead

In one corner of the dining room the sculpture, “Toyboy,” by Dario Matter, is placed adjacent to a bench by Umdabu. The McGowans have had the Gregor Jenkin table for years. Dining chairs are by Julian for GUILD studio; “Dissent” by artist Brett Murray hangs above a server carrying “Universal Self” sculpture by Remed and vessels by Nesta Nala and Michelle Legg. The hanging light is by Tobias Grau.

Trevyn and Julian’s son Zachary is an aspiring musician. Posters by influential artists, such as The Sex Pistols, Nirvana and Led Zeppelin, adorn the walls.

At the entrance display, Trevyn and Julian combined a Conrad Botes and Paco Pakdoust designed rug with a table by Gregor Jenkin and William Kentridge and a sculpture by Wilma Cruise. Playing off this are two artworks by British artist Marc Quinn above a server by Ouagadougou-based designer Hamed Ouattara.

This historical homestead is a contemporary living space, gallery for great design and art, chaotic playroom, grungy teen lair – and a serene oasis.

There’s a deep irony to South African artist Brett Murray’s typographical piece, the blocktitled “S I L E N C E” (dubbed “Dissent”), presiding over Trevyn and Julian McGowan’s dining room. Located in the quiet, leafy Cape Town suburb of Constantia, the McGowans’ home – which combines contemporary design with comfort and creativity – is many things, but it’s rarely silent. The rhythmic beat from 15-year-old Zachary’s drum kit reverberates off the walls as 7-year-old Ryder and his friends chase tirelessly between tables of collectible art, all while the parents busily prepare dinner for eight.

Encompassing creativity, comfort and the antics of children, the house can easily contain the energy of a family this size – a highly creative and dynamic unit comprising the couple and their six kin, Jacob (23) and his wife Lanty (both of whom work in the family business); Ruby (17); Zachary (15); Gabriel (11) and Ryder (7).

This graceful old dame has the strong bones and the stately elegance that only a build from the 1940s can encompass: its four-meter-high ceilings offer soaring proportions and the old wooden flooring delivers a sense of well-trodden history. Originally part of Cape Town’s historical Groot Constantia estate and later the Alphen property, the homestead was built for the matriarch of the esteemed Cloete clan, a family of winemakers who settled at the vineyard in the late 1700s.

A leather chesterfield designed by Trevyn and Julian snakes around the living room. Vessels by David Reade rest on the Charles Haupt coffee table. Although it’s layered with notable pieces, this living room is not untouchable — son Ryder is known to spin around in one of the swivel tub armchairs by B&B Italia, while the sofa is the perfect place to relax with a cup of tea. The Blue Label rug is by Paco Pakdoust. The rock sculpture is by Daniella Mooney.

A network of pictures collected over many years — including art by Alice Golden, Conrad Botes and ceramics by Ceramic Matters and Fornasetti behind the desk in the study. Barrett and Jimmy (named after Pink Floyd’s “Barrett” Syd and Led Zeppelin’s “Jimmy” Page) sit on the sofa. The coffee table is by Douglas & Co.

An island in the kitchen is surrounded by barstools from Guideline MNF. Artworks are by Michael Taylor and Arthur Goldreich.

“I got as far as the second room and knew that this was our house,” recounts Trevyn. “It had been on the market for three years at that point and nobody had understood how extraordinary it was.” The room configuration is unconventional, as she puts it, and it doesn’t have the typical set-up of bedrooms leading off corridors, “which is why I think it didn’t sell quickly – people couldn’t quite imagine it as a family home.”

It only takes you a moment when you stand in the entrance hall to fully appreciate that the house’s beauty is so much more than the “stuff inside.” It’s the spot where you’re offered a coupe d’oeil of the majestic loftiness, the whispers of history and a frame of tropical greenery that transports you from the city into an utterly tranquil outdoor sanctuary. Of course, when it comes to a property belonging to Trevyn and Julian – legendary mavericks and leaders in the South African design industry – the “stuff inside” constitutes much more than just furniture pieces: it’s covetable art and awe-inspiring local work from well-known local names such as Andile Dyalvane, Otto du Plessis, John Vogel, Dokter and Misses, and Gregor Jenkin – all artists and designers whose careers the McGowans have helped shape.

The McGowans’ home has plenty of zones geared for entertaining. This courtyard area is an ideal space come summer evenings. The marble table is from GUILD studio and Africa chairs are from Vondom, Wonki Ware ceramics and Ngwenya glassware from Odeon.

From left, Zachary, Gabriel, Ryder, Trevyn, Julian, Ruby, Barrett, Lanty and Jacob.

The McGowans spent time reworking the deck out by the pool. The corrugated treehouse is a lure for the kids.

The living room serves double duty as a showcase for the couple’s vocation as co-founders and CEOs of The Guild Group – an influential organization of sub-companies that promote African design and its creators. It’s also peppered with evidence of their own ventures in furniture, such as the recently made modern take on a chesterfield, which curves elegantly around industrial designer Charles Haupt’s coffee table. “We are obsessive collectors,” says Julian, who was once a theater designer in London trained at Central Saint Martins (CSM), nodding to the various vignettes found within, that display the work of notable local artists such as Serge Alain Nitegeka, Wilma Cruise and Conrad Botes. As a result, there are countless objets covering cabinets and surfaces – so many that you instinctively tense up as a kid whizzes past a limited-edition Justine Mahoney sculpture. “Things sometimes get broken,” says Trevyn, “but it’s important that we, and the kids, get to properly live with the pieces that have meaning for us.” The pair agrees that design can take a few knocks. “I like it when something is a bit worn, patinaed with a bit of history,” she explains. “I think it gives it life!” The pair had always been able to run their business remotely – traveling between international design fairs, their former home in Wilderness (a seaside town along the Cape’s famous Garden Route) and their first gallery in the hip innercity district of Woodstock – but since their move to town, their company has grown rapidly. Today, it comprises collectible design, retail, strategy, industry development and export divisions. The addition of the Guild Gallery to Cape Town’s popular Silo district has been a particular success.

The McGowan family congregate in the kitchen, where Julian creates meals made with produce from the vegetable and herb garden outside.

A quiet seating area in an otherwise busy kitchen features chairs from Melville and Moon with cushions from GUILD studio and a John Vogel “Loves me Loves me not” table from Southern Guild.

The bathroom is a pared-back spot that feels as tranquil as a spa. The handwoven carpet is from Paco Pakdoust.

“Our business has grown because we moved,” Trevyn explains. “There was only so much we could do remotely. We love being in the heart of the city and the social connection, but we feel very linked to nature here.” She adds, “it’s worth the commute from town to get to the oak trees and lushness of Constantia.”

“Strangely, this place feels a bit like a New York apartment,” comments Julian, and Trevyn clarifies, “It’s all on one level, there are glass doors that swing open and everything interleads – there’s an intimacy here.” One of the most-used areas is the master bedroom. It’s a spacious, light and breezy zone with a laid-back, cozy ambience, and it’s large enough to accommodate the whole family, with a touch of modernistic flair from a 30-year-old Jasper Morrison couch.

Natural light floods the master bedroom where a Jasper Morrison sofa serves as both an incredible design piece and a TV slouch zone. “It’s still living and breathing nearly 30 years later,” notes Julian, who likes it for its “simple, modernistic design.” The scatter cushions are from Jenny Gifford and GUILD studio. A pop of yellow in the form of an old Okha side table brings a touch of vivid color. The rug is from Morocco and the coffee table is by Tonic. Sanell Aggenbach’s mixed-media, “Crossfire,” is mounted above the bed.

“I’ll be working on my laptop in the bed and the kids will get together on the sofa,” Trevyn comments. Behind the bed an artwork by Sanell Aggenbach adds a touch of playfulness to the sophisticated space.

Structurally, the McGowans made very few changes to the house. “The main thing was that we broke through between the kitchen and the dining room,” Trevyn explains. “We live in the kitchen and Julian cooks a lot so it felt very cut off.” Julian adds, “Because we have a large family, we insist that we eat together every night. Nighttime is family time.” And so alongside the Brett Murray work, the family gathers at the dining table each night, recounting their days and making plans. It’s a beautifully subtle room where, among pedigreed pieces, handcrafted furniture and notable sculptures, the McGowans have a chance to connect and regroup. “We’ve always enjoyed the houses we live in, whether it was in London or Wilderness,” says Trevyn, as she tucks her feet underneath her on the outdoor sofa, “but this place just feels so much like home.”

Photography by Greg Cox. Production by Sven Alverding.

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