A Bo-Kaap home that’s both ex­otic and down to earth

A love of travel and an eye for de­sign have led Abi James to cre­ate a home that’s both ex­otic and down to earth.

Home (South Africa) - - NEWS - By Kim Arendse Pho­to­graphs Fran­cois Ober­hol­ster Styling Mar­ian van Wyk

You can’t help but feel happy when you ar­rive at Abi James’s home.

The striking blue front door framed by an en­tic­ing mu­ral of a flow­er­ing granadilla brings a smile to all who visit this in­te­rior and jew­ellery de­signer’s haven in the Bo-Kaap in Cape Town.

The en­trance of­fers the first sign that Abi is pas­sion­ate about all things beau­ti­ful. But she firmly be­lieves that beauty must have sub­stance and when you cross the thresh­old, it’s clear that this space is more than ‘just a pretty face’.

In­side is a trea­sure trove of keep­sakes from her trav­els; her pre­vi­ous homes in the UK, North Africa and South Africa; and from artists she’s met along the way. It’s a sanc­tu­ary in which each room trans­ports you to a dif­fer­ent world.

Travel-in­spired dé­cor

Lon­don-born Abi has been trav­el­ling since a young age, an ex­pe­ri­ence that has in­spired and in­formed her love of dé­cor.

Grow­ing up, she trav­elled to Africa with her par­ents (her mother is South African and her fa­ther is Bri­tish) ev­ery year. She re­calls one par­tic­u­lar school hol­i­day when she re­turned to the UK from South Africa with bags full of fab­ric and cu­rios to dec­o­rate her bed­room. “It prob­a­bly looked pretty out of place in an English board­ing school!” Abi says with a laugh.

Much later dur­ing a trip to Zam­bia while on hol­i­day from univer­sity, Abi landed a job in tex­tile de­sign which kicked off her in­te­rior de­sign ca­reer.

Seven years ago, a work op­por­tu­nity saw her set­tling in South Africa. “When I first bought this prop­erty, I was liv­ing in Tam­boer­skloof and used this place as a shared workspace with the band Fresh­ly­ground,” Abi ex­plains. “When they be­gan tour­ing and no longer needed the space, I de­cided to turn it into a home.”

Although based in this 100-year-old house that was once a fruit and veg­etable shop, Abi still reg­u­larly trav­els to Kenya and Ethiopia where she sources beads for her be­spoke jew­ellery line, Soul De­sign. She is also the in­te­rior de­signer for Tongabezi Lodge in Zam­bia.

“I love the char­ac­ter of the Bo-Kaap: the cob­bled streets, colour­ful houses, and the sense of com­mu­nity. The daily call to prayer in this mostly Mus­lim neigh­bour­hood re­minds me of Zanz­ibar!”

Hav­ing al­ready un­der­gone sev­eral ren­o­va­tions over the years, the house was in good shape – all Abi had to do was trans­form it into a warm, eclec­tic space she could call home. >>

Eclec­tic fab­rics and col­lec­tions

Abi painted the in­te­rior white to cre­ate a calm space in which her beloved col­lectibles would stand out. In the liv­ing ar­eas, she had wooden floors in­stalled over the pre­vi­ous black ce­ment and then painted them white too. Up­stairs, you’ll find Abi’s bed­room, bath­room and jew­ellery stu­dio. Here, the wooden floor has been left in its nat­u­ral state for a warmer look and feel.

Each room is tex­tured with a va­ri­ety of ma­te­ri­als, art­works, plants and warm colours. “I’m drawn to a bo­hemian style with a mix and match of pieces and a touch of old school glam­our,” Abi says. “I’m also in­spired by the pat­terns, tex­tures and colours of In­dia and Morocco, and I love eclec­tic fab­rics and col­lec­tions of art and books. I have a se­ri­ous fab­ric ad­dic­tion!”

She uses her col­lec­tion to make any­thing from throws to scat­ter cov­ers – and even her shower curtain!

“When I dec­o­rate, I start by buy­ing a few items I love – whether it’s fab­ric, a piece of fur­ni­ture or a tile. Then I bring in pieces that com­ple­ment those first buys,” she ex­plains. It’s rare for Abi to walk away from some­thing she loves, like the big red Per­spex let­ters on her stair­case which she bought at a Paris flea mar­ket a few years ago. “I couldn’t spell any­thing else with the let­ters they were selling, so I went for an N and an O. I carted them back to Lon­don on the Eurostar and then shipped them over to Cape Town a year later. A huge “no” seemed neg­a­tive, so I now use the N as a Z – I just love the way they look on the stairs!” >>

I like pieces with a story and I’m drawn to colour and tex­ture. – Abi

Q&A with Abi

What have you bought and dis­carded most re­cently? I bought a pow­der-pink mug that matches my sofa and changed my bed throw to a bright Indian fab­ric; I gave the old one away. If you could re­lo­cate, where would you go? San Fran­cisco looks like a great city and Lamu Is­land in East Africa would be dreamy. What is your most prized pos­ses­sion? My Ethiopian crosses. What do you con­sider to be the big­gest dé­cor faux pas? Buy­ing some­thing be­cause it’s trendy, in­stead of buy­ing some­thing you love. What is your favourite plant and why? I love palms; they fill a space so well. Where do you love to shop for home dé­cor? Moroc­can Ware­house, Wey­landts, Malawi Chairs, gumtree.co.za, Nap, Kenyan mar­kets for fab­rics from across Africa, Block & Chisel for lamps, Caro­line Gi­bello for photos and an­thro­polo­gie.com for crock­ery. Abi says the 40m² court­yard (right) makes her feel miles away from the busy city cen­tre. It’s filled with mean­ing­ful pieces such as an iron bed from her child­hood that’s now used as seat­ing, an um­brella from In­dia, and cane chairs. The mo­saic foun­tain (in­set) was al­ready here when Abi moved in; it uses re­cy­cled wa­ter and suits her style per­fectly. Floor tiles and white ta­ble from Moroc­can Ware­house

Who lives here? Abi James WHERE Bo-Kaap, Cape Town SIZE 130m² The en­trance is warm and invit­ing with its tiled bor­der and art­work by Abi’s friend Susie Jayne Baily. Door painted with Plas­con Vel­va­glo in At­lantic Beach

In the liv­ing area, whites and neu­trals cre­ate an el­e­gant yet com­fort­able space. Chan­de­lier from Block & Chisel; side ta­bles from Wey­landts, gumtree.co.za and Amat­uli; rug from Moroc­can Ware­house

To cre­ate a mul­ti­pur­pose space for cook­ing, din­ing and re­lax­ing, Abi in­stalled an is­land in the open-plan kitchen. The stain­less steel shelves and splash­back, as well as track light­ing, add an in­dus­trial touch.

Light streams in from two large sash win­dows on the first floor; the ex­posed wall dis­plays the stone used in the orig­i­nal walls. Teak cab­i­net from Wey­landts

Abi says fresh flow­ers and plants are a must, hence the green­ery wrapped around the hang­ing glass can­dle­holder. Wood-burn­ing stove from Builders

Star and vase from Moroc­can Ware­house

Hav­ing al­ways had a keen interest in dé­cor, Abi picked out this light blue cab­i­net from a Lon­don-based French an­tique fur­ni­ture store as a gift from her par­ents for her 21st birth­day.

Blue cab­i­net from Amat­uli; white stool and can­dle­holder from gumtree.co.za

Wooden pieces bring warmth to the bath­room and pops of jewel-toned blue, in­clud­ing the shower curtain Abi made from fab­ric she found in In­dia, add interest.

The second up­stairs bed­room serves as Abi’s stu­dio; this is where she makes her jew­ellery and sews soft fur­nish­ings. The pine shelves were cus­tom made and new jew­ellery pieces are hung on bits of drift­wood.

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