Homeware creative and interior designer Ilze Swart channels the classic elegance and quiet restraint of a more antique aesthetic in her serene, stylishly understated home and showroom in Stellenbosch’s leafy Jonkershoek.
Interior designer Ilze Swart is modest in her description of herself as ‘a simple girl from the farm’, considering her sophisticated eye and talent for creating studied, yet emotive spaces that are as comfortable as they’re inviting to look at.
For the Stellenbosch-based owner of the small business Ithaca Fine Homeware, it was indeed her country upbringing that helped shape her understated aesthetic and obsessive attention to detail. Living in the family home where her father had grown up and which her mother had lovingly renovated, she quietly assimilated her mother’s natural style and skill for restoration through a mix of observation and pure instinct, as well as her parents’ knack for picking up exquisite pieces of furniture on auction for next to nothing.
With several renovations of her own to draw on, Swart had a sixth-sense response to the rather characterless, boxy, thatch-roofed house from the ’60s she came across in the quiet, lushly treed Jonkershoek neighbourhood. ‘I’m a true conceptualiser. I can see what a house wants to be,’ she says. ‘In this case, I wanted it to look like an old house that I modernised. It helped that it had good bones to start with.’
Formerly dark, closed-off spaces on the ground floor were gently opened up to create a breezy flow from the entrance through to the rest of the home, enhanced by flooding it with natural light. ‘I consider a view through the house to be one of the most important design factors,’ Swart says. Already boasting tall ceilings, its doorways were expanded to amplify the classic sense of scale, while details like high skirting boards, panelling, architraves and arched doors were added to ‘bring in the old. I wanted to fool the visitor,’ she laughs.
She deliberately kept to a pared-down palette of white walls complemented by black slate and bare timber floors layered with pale cowhides and simple, patterned rugs. ‘The interiors are plain – they’re not overdone,’ she says. ‘Whatever’s been put there is special, whether it has a texture, mood or purpose.’ Slip-covered sofas and armchairs combine with antique pieces inherited from her parents, from a set of wooden chairs to the piano that her mother, a music teacher, used to play and now has pride of place in the entrance hall. Linen drops printed with works by old Dutch masters add a touch of drama, alongside paintings chosen for their muted tones and emotional resonance.
‘There’s a great deal of this house that’s an extension of my personality,’ says Swart. ‘It’s a very sentimental home because there is so much of me in every detail.’
Text: Leigh Robertson, Photographs: Inge Prins, Styling: Retha Erichsen