This covetable mid-century home in Cape Town has been sensitively renovated

Rebuilding a Classic
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This covetable mid-century home in Cape Town has been sensitively renovated and is now the centre of a family’s life as well as a unique showcase of 20th-century design.

Cape Town-based magazine editor, stylist and interior designer Laureen Rossouw first saw this house five years ago. She and her husband Koos were about to move out of their City Bowl apartment, and she spotted a picture of "a dilapidated house with classic Bauhaus lines" in the newspaper. "I thought it might be a bad picture or wishful thinking," she says, but she rapidly made her way to the house, which was in the ideal location in the City Bowl suburb of Oranjezicht, on the edge of one of Cape Town’s most charming parks.

As soon as she saw the characterful, mid-20th-century building, which most definitely did have Bauhaus "bones", Laureen was smitten. "I immediately phoned Koos to tell him I had found my dream house and he loved it too, although when he saw how much work there was to do, he couldn’t hide his disappointment,’ she says. It took a lot of persuasion to convince him, she adds – although not that much, it seems, since ‘at 3pm on the same day, we signed [the offer]."

Laureen finishes her tale with a characteristic flourish: "We always buy everything in a few hours and deal with the consequences later. In this case, the biggest challenge so far." The Rossouws had been living in the very centre of the Cape Town CBD, in an apartment situated in one of the city’s iconic Art Deco buildings that had been spectacularly renovated by Laureen some years before. In this new home, she says, "the lines were there; it was the layout that was unpractical. It clearly needed a thoughtful update to adapt it for 21st-century living."

And so began a lengthy process of planning and building work, conceived by Laureen in partnership with her daughter Renée Rossouw. Renée is an architect by training, and an acclaimed designer who in 2019 was one of a group of young African creatives who collaborated on furniture giant Ikea’s Överallt collection.

As soon as you’re inside the house now, it’s impossible not to be captivated by the visual feast created by the classic 20th-century furniture, authentic design objects and special artworks that fill the interiors. But what really makes Laureen’s painstakingly curated collection shine is the way it fits into the context of the reworked spaces.

Renée explains: ‘The exterior had all the good elements of a Mid-Century meets Art Deco house, [but] the interior spaces were a bit of a mess and were almost completely redone [as] the interiors didn’t have flow or enough light.’ The pair turned the garden- and park-facing kitchen into a breathtaking double-volume space, and added more glazing elsewhere too, including a large circular ‘porthole’ in the dining area, as well as clerestory windows and interior glass and metal doors. ‘[Creating] new, bigger windows and bigger volumes that flow into nature was a big driving force,’ says Renée, as the aim was to reconnect the house with its beautiful garden – also much worked on during the renovation and now a lush masterpiece – and the greenery of the park landscape beyond it.

The overall result is that as well having as an abundance of natural light in its interiors, the house is an intriguing and visually pleasing exercise in geometry. It has become an illustration of the fact that ‘geometric symmetry’ is not really about straight lines, but rather, is an expression of the most pleasing combinations of shapes based on rectangles and circles, as well as the use of these elements in concert with one another.

"My mom and I often collaborate," says Renée. "We alternate between creator and editor for different projects, depending whose project it is. We have a similar understanding of colour and style: I’m a bit more minimalist and stripped down whereas Laureen is more energetic and passionate."

In this project, she adds, "My mom was the driving force. I acted mostly as a bouncing board and gave architectural ideas about light and volume and space. Once she started with the interiors, I designed some of the surfaces – like floors and a mural, and some furniture pieces. She furnished the space from her ideas and desires."

Laureen, for her part, explains that "so much interior design is based on formulas about how spaces should work," adding that a formulaic approach "had to be transcended"in this house. "Every space had to be considered and designed – and then furnished – on its own terms," she says. The results are beautiful: 20th-century design pieces including Le Corbusier chairs and a Bruno Mathsson chaise share the space with custom-designed flooring and wall panels created by Renée. The colours used throughout are vibrant, yet always tonally arranged to perfectly set off one another within each room. And the final layer is formed by Laureen’s collections of classic posters, local artworks and collectible objects.

Among the home’s most charming spaces are the mezzanine study area – described by Renée as "a family room filled with the primary colours my mom and I love" – and Laureen’s bathroom, which features a spectacular marble-clad central bath with a glorious view of the garden’s mature trees. Another charming spot is the outdoor living space, complete with fire pit and a combination of vintage and custom-designed garden furniture. This, Renée says, is the place where "we sit as a family... It feels really special."

While Cape Town isn’t an architecturally pleasing city on the whole, it does have some hidden gems – many of which are domestic buildings. Following the renovation that has given it a new lease of life, this Bauhaus-brought-bang-up-to-date home is now definitely one of them.

Tags: CapeTownLaureenRossouwRenéesouthafrica
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