A SERENE PALETTE, INVITING LIGHT-FILLED AREAS, AND NATURAL EPHEMERA COMPLETE THIS BEAUTIFUL AND PEACEFUL SPACE
Waiting for the coffee to brew, sitting on a sun-drenched daybed under a soaring ceiling, Debussy’s Clair de
Lune playing faintly on the radio as one black cat sidles up for a belly scratch and the other surveys the scene from the branch of a tree outside. It’s easy to understand why “a sanctuary for the senses” is how Shelley Street describes the tranquil home that she shares with her daughter Phoebe.
Shelley’s house, with its pared-down palette, airy open spaces, glimpses of greenery, and thoughtfully edited contents, act as an antidote to both its location— on the border of Cape Town’s frenetic urban fringe—as well as to the homeowner’s visually-driven profession. A former magazine stylist and creative and curatorial consultant to South Africa’s top lifestyle, fashion, and furniture retailers, Shelley now runs Space Solutions. It's a creative branding studio offering art direction, graphic design, merchandising, and interior styling to a mixed bag of clients. Recently, she has also taken on several high-end residential projects, a direction she describes as “pleasantly unexpected.”
The house came into Shelley’s and daughter Phoebe’s life at “just the right time” via a small classified ad pinned onto a board at a local shopping center. “I postponed an appointment, met the agent there, and told her to consider it sold,” recalls Shelley. That was over 10 years ago, and the home, which dates back to 1873, has undergone several renovations since then. “It sounds like such a décor magazine cliché to say that it was dark and neglected and tumbledown in its original state, but that is the truth of it,” she says. “Though the potential and character was always there, which is why I fell in love with it.”
Huge steel windows were installed, crumbling interior walls restored, exterior walls built, cement floors laid down, ceilings removed, and the layout converted to form a large open-plan living area incorporating a work space as well as two bedrooms and a shared bathroom. “Even I was surprised by how high the ceilings turned out,” says Shelley. “There were also several trees on the property that have become a part of the space with the large steel-framed glass doors and windows. I love having the combination of the volume, the light that touches every corner, and the lush greenery outside. It feels very far away from the city. It’s very meditative.”
Shelley’s reverence for simplicity is reflected in a palette consisting of white and underpinned by strong black accents, the subtleties to be discovered in the layering of color and texture. “My personal aesthetic has always been very constant,” she explains. “I’d say my colors are ‘beach pebble’ shades rather than slavishly monochrome—white, obviously, but also charcoals, grays, chalk. Looking around the house before the shoot, I’ve realized that the faintest washed-out blues have somehow found their way in, too,” Shelley says with a laugh.
What’s immediately evident is that Shelley is not just a good curator; she’s an exceptional one, the many displays and vignettes confirming her country-girl roots.
“I GRAVITATE TOWARDS THINGS THAT ARE NOT MASS-PRODUCED, THAT HAVE THE MARK OF THE PERSON WHO MADE THEM.”
“I grew up in the Free State province, which is known for its magnificent light, wildlife, and unspoilt wide open spaces, so it’s no surprise that I’m drawn to those elements.”
Her eye-catching collections of objects are very much at home in the most curious cabinet of curiosities: animal skulls, bones and antlers, bizarre seed pods and burnt protea flowers, coral, shells and pebbles—all discovered on nature walks.
A grouping of ceramics injects a rare pocket of vibrant hues. This includes antique Chinese pots and the work of her friend, acclaimed South African artist Lovell Friedman. Artworks are a passion but have been limited to “noncolor” illustrations, old etchings, and photographs, with the exception of two watercolors inherited from her Dutch grandparents and a few local pieces in daughter Phoebe’s bedroom. There are many beautiful African pieces too: carved wooden head rests, clay milk pots, and carved stone sculptures bought on local travels to the continent. “I gravitate towards things that are not mass-produced, that have the mark of the person who made them,” explains Shelley.
Among the organic clusters of found, salvaged, and gifted ephemera are objects that illustrate Shelley’s design creed: original, mid-century modern Panton, Eames, and Bertoia chairs; Jurgen Bey’s modern classic Light Shade Shade Ø70 by Moooi; and the centerpiece of the living area—an iconic beaded chandelier by South African design studio Mud, bought by Shelley long before the likes of Anthropologie and the Conran Shop discovered their work. “I’m definitely a purist when it comes to that aspect of design,” says Shelley. “It has to be the real thing. If it’s a reproduction, I’d rather not own it.”
While the inner landscape has a peacefulness that borders on the sacred, this is no monastery. “How could it be with a teenager running around?” says Shelley. "We have our simple rituals like buying fresh food from the market and cooking together, me working at my desk while Phoebe does homework on the dining table or practices her piano, having an afternoon sleep on the daybed in the winter sun, which is our absolute favorite spot… The space is small, but we share it well. There really is nowhere else we’d rather be.” RL
The open-plan kitchen is the scene of many collaborative efforts by Shelley and daughter Phoebe, and is an inviting but practical, utilitarian space. Floating shelves host everyday objects as well as special collectibles and inherited items. The palette is largely all white with wood. The hand-carved African chair on one side of the kitchen is a favorite of Shelley’s.
In the dining area, the weathered wooden dining table was found on a roadtrip and purchased for the princely sum of R85 (approximately 289 pesos), then strapped to the roof of the car and driven from one end of the country to the other. Original mid-century modern chairs, including a Bertoia Side Chair and Panton S chairs, provide a contemporary contrast to its rustic finish. A display table provides a surface for pebbles, porcupine quills, a sun-faded tortoise shell, and a sculpture bought in Tanzania. The limitededition poster was bought at the Guggenheim and is of the famed Woman Walking by Alberto Giacometti. The pendant shade is by Flos (available at Shangri-La Plaza).
The all-white bathroom was fully renovated to incorporate a contemporary tub with an organic form and a large window framing the view of an old tree. Shelley is strictly “anti-curtains,” so a high wall backing onto a neighbor’s property provides privacy. For a similar tub, get the Sunstruck oval bathtub by Kohler at Dexterton, Greenbelt 5, Makati City.