Landscape designer and art collector Mary Maurel’s home in the heart of Cape Town is a stylish, contemporary greenhouse of sorts, filled with botanicals, paintings and prints alike
In the heat of a summer’s day in Cape Town, during the city’s driest spell in decades, the residence of landscape designer Mary Maurel is every bit the urban oasis that might be expected of a person who spends her days mapping out garden plans and working with plants. Step through the front gate and you’re immediately welcomed into a luxuriant courtyard replete with a lushly leafed living wall, well-tended beds of foliage and a slender, sculptural tree that reaches all the way to the house’s upper level. It’s an inviting taste of both the verdure and artistry that lie within, for Maurel’s also a passionate collector of paintings, prints and objets.
The green not only surrounds, but also permeates the beautifully ordered interior spaces of this cool and bright contemporary family home, which has the feeling of being considerably farther from the city than it is. Robust, leafy numbers all but spill from the outside in and almost every surface is topped with ornamental arrangements overflowing with cuttings and plants. Yet the effect’s also considered and restrained, in keeping with the inherent classicism of the house, with its clean, modern finishes and palette of crisp white, tones of green, blond timber and raw brick.
One of the most compelling reasons the property first caught the attention of Maurel and her husband some 12 years ago was its large garden, which was uncharacteristic for the area. As a qualified architect, she’d also immediately recognised the potential of the quirky arts-and-crafts-style house with its tiny windows and red clay roof. ‘It hadn’t been touched for 30 years,’ she notes. An initial renovation had made the house merely habitable, re-orientated to make the most of its position on the generous site and to optimise the space inside. But it was the third and most recent renovation (each time with the help of Maurel’s friend, architect Victoria Perry of Loudon Perry Anderson) that she was able to reimagine it entirely. ‘We might as well have rebuilt the house!’ she laughs. And indeed, it’s hard to fathom that this elegant, clean-lined structure was ever anything but a new build.
Having worked as an architect for a short spell in the UK, Maurel returned to SA seeking a change. That she grew up on a farm in Elgin with horticulturist parents who run a specialist nursery makes it entirely logical that her path would lead to designing gardens, rather than buildings. An opportunity to learn under the wing of landscaping maven Franchesca Watson would result in the founding of her own business, Mary Maurel Gardens, several years later.
While her parents’ farm has been her base for experimentation and play with planting and design, she’s been stricter with her own, deliberately tough Mediterranean-style garden. ‘If a plant doesn’t make it in my garden, out it goes! I only use water-wise and hardy varieties, not only because of our water restrictions now, but also because of the windy conditions in the City Bowl,’ she says. ‘Because I work with other people’s gardens every day, I don’t necessarily have the time to tend my own, which is deliberately very structural, pared-down and green.’
The structural garden perfectly frames the lines of the house, providing a harmonious counterpoint to the architecture. The same sense of balance is seen in the interiors, from the sculptural staircase connecting its two levels to the wrap-around built-in seating in the living room and sun room that cleverly conceals ample storage space. ‘I’ve become more Scandi with age,’ she notes of her taste in decor. But she’s also a self-confessed eclectic, mixing old and new with abandon. Furniture pieces by Gregor Jenkin and James Mudge sit easily beside a vintage library cabinet and a timeworn leather armchair. Then there’s Maurel’s extensive collection of artworks, which she’s been adding to for the past 20 years. ‘I’m running out of space,’ she says. ‘But what I tend to do is shuffle the works around the house every so often. If you initially chose it because you love it, you’ll always love it.’
In among the paintings and prints are also bowls, pots and jars bought at her local potter’s market and a treasure trove of sentimental pieces, such as the antique glass perfume and ink bottles she brought back with her from London. Maurel has a natural eye when it comes to grouping pieces together, her display wall of ceramics in the kitchen being a case in point. ‘I’m instinctively drawn to things, rather than by how well they might go together,’ she adds. ‘But when you buy from your heart, you’re often drawn to pieces that will resonate together.’ And you get a sense that it’s this exact approach of buying from the heart that’s infused this home with such warmth, character and effortless style. ‘I wouldn’t trade it for anything,’ she says.
Text: Leigh Robertson Photographs: Inge Prins