Inside our Winter issue you’ll find the stunning loft interior style of Justin Rhodes and Cameron Munro – artfully reinvented by Liam Mooney with curated pieces from Whatiftheworld/ and exquisite furniture from SA and beyond. Read our extended story with unseen photography.
When you’re in the market for new ideas, there are few more inspiring cities to be in than Cape Town and it is this sense of exploration and discovery that fuelled the latest brainchild of two of the city’s leading artistic go-getters, South African native Cameron Munro and his New Yorker partner, Justin Rhodes.
The commercially savvy, community-conscious couple who have discovered and championed South African design and artisanal craft through their now well-established Neighbourgoods Market and Whatiftheworld/ design studio have just stepped onto the property ladder with an artful twist on the vacation rental. With the discerning, culturally-curious international traveller in mind, Justin and Cameron’s idea was to create an inviting home that also offered an immersive experience in the local art scene.
Ideally situated for city exploring, tucked away from the bustle of the CBD’s Longmarket Street above one of the city’s best curry houses, their luxurious two-bedroom loft apartment sits behind the clay terracotta façade of the historic landmark Wellington Fruit Growers Building, designed by Sir Herbert Baker in 1934.
Boasting a carefully curated collection of framed sketches, totem sculptures and stunning furnishings, the inner-city retreat is at once a showcase for emerging young artists from their Woodstock gallery space, and at the same time an exquisite, elegantly finished home that comfortably hosts guests for short-term Cape Town stays, via international accommodation website Airbnb.
We wanted it to be somewhere where guests walk in and it feels home away from home so we deliberately picked some things that are comfy.
To bring their idea to life the pair once again engaged the keen, knowledgeable eye of Cape Town-based industrial designer Liam Mooney with whom they have regularly collaborated since 2006 when the trio launched Whatiftheworld/. Having searched for around six months for the perfect space within shouting distance of Longmarket’s pulsing beat, Justin says that on stepping through the front door of the Wellington, he and Cameron knew immediately that this was the one. Within 25 minutes, an offer was placed and the design took just several short weeks.
“We were looking to buy a space specifically for short-term letting,” Justin explains of the original idea, “but also where we could house our artists, clients and collectors – a space that we could use almost as an extension of the gallery”. The idea was very much to create a home first, creative canvas second. “We wanted it to be somewhere where guests walk in and it feels home away from home so we deliberately picked some things that are comfy – I’ve stayed in some places that are just so beautiful but it’s so overdone you’re scared to sit on anything and we didn’t want it to be like that. When you’re travelling, you want things you can touch that look a little bit lived in – the idea was to have some playfulness with the art and the sculptures.”
“We didn’t have to make any structural changes at all – the shell was perfect”, remembers Liam of starting the creative process, allowing them to focus immediately on the interior. The cavernous open plan living area, incorporating a generous kitchen-diner and relaxed lounge, had already been cleverly sectioned – elegant charcoal iron-framed glass panels jutting from the brickwork creating a subtle division of space that allows the light to stream through the length of the spacious loft from the lofty windows overlooking Longmarket Street. “The previous owner certainly knew what she was doing”, Justin observes.
So how do you tackle such an expansive loft, giving it a gallery-feel with home comforts? Liam recommends putting the utility and priorities of your guests front of mind. Fully booked since they opened their doors in January, typical guests are urban, international travellers with an appreciation for art and design who want to stay right in the thick of things. Big enough to sleep two couples or a family or four or five.
Typical guests are urban, international travellers with an appreciation for art and design who want to stay right in the thick of things.
“The first thing you think of in a space so vast is zones, and the question you ask yourself is, what do you imagine people are going to be doing in this space? With short term rentals, people will probably want to watch TV and they’ll have their own guests around so there needs to be some sort of a formal lounge as well as a big banquet-style kitchen table… and once you’ve planned those spaces, it’s a lot easier to break up the room and design each space independently.”
Most important for the team was that this unique blend of gallery and home didn’t feel like a mausoleum. “There is nothing museum-like about this space whatsoever”, Liam says. “The art collection is very important – there are some key design pieces here, European and South African – but it’s interesting to display it in a way that isn’t pretentious or holy.”
This is a space designed for art to be not merely exhibited but really lived with.
The end result is almost an anti-gallery – the best of both worlds where art can be tangibly experienced, along with all the home comforts you need on a trip to the city. As well as impactful pieces like the large scale John Murray and Rodan Hart steel mirrored sculptures floating over the dining table, this is a space designed for art to be not merely exhibited but really lived with. Below the series of Cameron Platter charcoal sketches, casually hung salon-style across a whole wall of the lounge, guests can relax amongst Missibaba cushions and put their feet up on a Haldane Martin pouf to watch TV; or host long lunches with friends and colleagues around the imposing 18-seater Gregor Jenkin table, mixing drinks on a beautiful Cape Dutch yellow wood oak server, sourced from the Lutge Gallery.
Liam explains that the predominant theme for the interior was contrast, in every sense. “There’s nothing worse than a space that’s completely overdone one thing; there’s more depth to a space that doesn’t match perfectly. So the idea was to mix as much as possible; nothing in this apartment is matchy-matchy. Colours, shapes and textures are combined in an intelligent way – contemporary European with African design, different styles, old and new, very slick with a little bit shabby. But it’s a huge challenge to be able to do that without it looking like a pawn shop or a jumble sale.”
There’s nothing worse than a space that’s completely overdone one thing; there’s more depth to a space that doesn’t match perfectly.
So how did they avoid that? “If you’re mixing and matching so often, make sure that you have a common thread. Yellows and golds are found throughout the space and Whatiftheworld/, as a showcase for South African design talent, was really our starting point for everything.”
The result is brave, layered and risky but intriguing too, encouraging guests to look more closely at their surroundings and appreciate each piece by itself, all either one-off or limited run pieces. Local South African artisans feature next to established Europeans; Lakin Ogunbanwo’s Nigerian photography oversees a hand-woven stripy Patricia Urquiola occasional table, topped with Liebermann Pottery urns from an old Cape farm in Kommetjie.
The result is brave, layered and risky… but intriguing too.
A remarkable Gregor Jenkin lamp, made from upturned enamel teacups, stands tall next to the luscious petrol blue Robert Sherwood couch. Industrial-look cabinets – Justin’s creation together with Marco Simal at Mother City Hardware – are topped with a collection of hand-crafted mahogany African bowls, all sourced from in and around Cape Town.
Glass, light and organic textures play a big role in the space. Beautifully restored, high varnished Oregon floors ground the living area, making an imposing first impression. The same glasshouse ironwork dividers also house the second bedroom in self-contained cube, next to a surprising, self-contained outdoor space, packed with pot-plants. This and the oversized tropical palm fronds in Pezula hand-woven baskets add a lush tranquillity to the city-centre hideaway, and bring a sense of Cape Town’s natural beauty inside.
The monochrome palette found throughout the apartment is punctuated with Justin and Cameron’s favourite sunshine yellow – a welcome splash of citrus adding a contemporary freshness to each room. Classic touches have been retained that reflect the era of the architecture; from the black and white checkerboard tiled floor to art deco chrome door handles, both bathrooms revive the 1930s spirit, warmly lit with globe lighting. The en-suite is attached to a white-washed master bedroom, which though roomy with high ceilings and large windows, is kept cosy with a Lost In Translation hotel-feel of floor-to-ceiling white curtains and grey plush underfoot.
While the interior enables discovery of the latest artistic talent and the location is perfectly situated to explore Cape Town’s hidden gems, possibly the most thrilling aspect of this innovative idea is its organic, ever-changing decor – this artful blend of home and gallery is not a static concept.
Much like its mother city, there will always be something new to discover.
Because just as in most homes, where style evolves as the months go by and favourite items are updated and moved around, so Justin and Cameron plan to introduce new pieces every few months, keeping the space fresh and giving curious, culture-hungry visitors ample excuse for repeat visits. So that, much like its mother city, there will always be something new to discover.
“I’m quite passionate about the city aspect of it”, Justin says. “We live just two blocks away on Greenmarket Square and it’s a part of the city that not many people live in – quite undiscovered and under-appreciated. People can come into this urban environment, experience the city in a different way and take away some knowledge of contemporary art and design here.”
“People can come into this urban environment, experience the city in a different way and take away some knowledge of contemporary art and design.”
And the best part? This special space is just the first of many. “Our whole idea here is to build a small portfolio of these kind of spaces, maybe three in the city within walking distance of each other and one outside of town, so it’s almost its own little collection. This will definitely be the first of more.” Book us in.
To see inside more exquisite homes, in South Africa and beyond, pick up our Winter issue, out now.
The Winter edition of ELLE Decoration South Africa is on shelves at your nearest magazine retailer now. Packed with stylish ways to hibernate this winter, it’s full of all your favourite features, décor tips and tricks plus brand new pages, including DECO Read, DECO Kid and DECO Grow. Pick up your copy today for the most stylish winter yet and tell us what you think on Twitter @ELLE_Deco. #winteriscoming #Winter102