Milisuthando Bongela | Elle Decoration South Africa

Milisuthando Bongela | Elle Decoration South Africa

Milisuthando Bongela’s old-school Illovo flat is a melting pot of Joburg’s cool creatives.

Being a creative consultant, popular blogger and all-round Joburg It girl, Milisuthando Bongela’s home was never going to be a cookie-cutter townhouse – instead, her flat in a beautiful 1920s block in Illovo, Joburg, is an unpretentious space filled with vintage finds, light and personality.

It’s the place I imagined for myself when I was a kid

The building sits atop a hill, in a quiet corner of buzzing Joburg, overlooking the CBD and the iconic Ponte skyscraper. But it’s not just the ‘breathtaking views’ that won Milisuthando over – the building’s close-knit community is another plus. ‘We’re like a family, my neighbours, caretakers and even the security guard. I sometimes fetch my neighbour’s kid from school, and the security guard even waits up for us when we get home late.’

Milisuthando Bongela | Elle Decoration South Africa

Milisuthando Bongela | Elle Decoration South Africa

The light, airy flat is filled with vintage and repurposed finds – ‘I don’t have brand-new anything, except appliances!’ – and Milisuthando likes trying things out and seeing what fits. Kente cloth covering a pouf on the floor and a wall-mounted bleached wood antelope head add contemporary African touches. The furniture pieces are all vintage finds Milisuthando has picked up over the years –

I feel like you should collect things in your 20s.‘I don’t want people to think I live in this fancy pad. I want people who are 25 or 26 to think, “I can do this.”’

Milisuthando Bongela | Elle Decoration South AfricaOn one of her antique-hunting jaunts she even picked up a Picasso print at a second-hand store. A bold blue armchair and a sunshine-yellow rug, which work perfectly with the modern white light fittings and the wooden and light-grey cement floors, lift the muted, earth-toned colour palette.

Milisuthando has already broken in her flat with a few legendary gatherings, including her and her friends gatecrashing the filming of Neill Blomkamp’s next movie, the sci-fi comedy Chappie. ‘We were drinking bubbly on my porch, and my neighbour mentioned that Hugh Jackman was shooting a movie literally 100m from the building,’ she says. ‘So we went out with our champagne and 1950s champagne glasses, asked to go onto the set and then stood there watching the filming and, of course, had a good look at Hugh Jackman!’

While she loves her Illovo flat, ask her about her dream home and it’s to the Transkei she returns.
‘It’s on a piece of land close to the beach, a very minimalist farmhouse style with a wraparound porch. Skylights in the bathroom and bedrooms, and a breakfast nook overlooking the beach. There are antique Persian carpets on the cement floors and Malian mud cloth mats on the wooden floors. The walls are pretty bare, save for tapestries by Native Line or Brook&Lyn and some hanging art. We share a garden with our neighbours, in summer we braai and in winter we tell stories around the bonfire.’

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Text Christine Van Deemter
Photographs Steve Karallis

This article was first published in Elle Magazine May 2014.