Designer Dicey du Toit’s abode in Port Elizabeth combines sensual textures with washes of colour
When Dicey and Tom du Toit swapped their Bauhaus home in Paarl, in the heart of South Africa’s Cape Winelands, for a 1970s house on the southern coast of the country in Port Elizabeth, it came with some celebration for Dicey. The self-taught designer and decorator was relieved that she could finally allow her own interior style to flourish. ‘Tom is an engineer, so he loved the Paarl house,’ she says of their former home, which was built by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe protégé Pius Pahl, the last architect to qualify at the Bauhaus, Germany’s influential art and design school. ‘It was an enormous glass house with only three solid walls. It was all about clean spaces, minimalism and no clutter.’
Living in an all-white Bauhaus abode was something of a shock to Dicey’s senses, which are instinctively drawn to colours and textures. ‘ Nothing I loved fitted in there,’ she says, explaining how new furniture had to be selected to complement the iconic architecture. ‘I had to redesign myself to live in the space.’
When Tom opened an injection-moulding company just outside Port Elizabeth, it was a welcome opportunity to relocate and start playing house again – this time in a style more attuned to Dicey’s Japanese-influenced approach to interior design and architecture. The three-bedroom home on the edge of the Baakens Valley nature reserve provided the natural setting that welcomed her sensibility for stimulating sensory experiences.
Dicey’s work as an architectural heritage specialist helped her to instantly recognise the opportunities abounding in this old-new home, calling for a complete overhaul of the interior while respecting and maintaining the master plan of the structure. ‘It was being used as a guesthouse when we bought it,’ she says, pointing out various rooms that were formerly closed up to one another. The home proved difficult to navigate in this iteration, with awkward twists and turns, and no natural flow. It was impractical, suffocating and dark.
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Designer-decorator Dicey du Toit; the koi, which Dicey views as ‘a living painting’, were inherited from the house’s previous owners. A bridge built over the pond runs from the front door to the back kitchen entrance; leading to the formal lounge is the dining room – through shutters inserted in the entryways, the spaces maintain elements of privacy and warmth. A rug from Weylandts (weylandts.co.za) was placed perpendicular to the layout of the rectangular Gregor Jenkin table (gregorjenkin.com): ‘Shapes can do a lot for an interior,’ says Dicey; painted brickwork in the entrance porch and passageway lends texture to the interiors, as does the mohair skin on the bench, a product of Port Elizabeth. The server on the far right was designed by The Collection Studio, and the pit-fired ceramic vase standing on it is by Port Elizabethan potter Donve Branch (donvebranch.co.za).
It took Tom knocking on a wall for them to realise that many of the interior structures were just drywalling and, by bashing these down, they revealed the expansive passageway that links the entire home. ‘That’s when it made sense to me,’ says Dicey excitedly. ‘Suddenly the house had breathing space.’
Connecting spaces by way of wooden shutters that can remain open for constant interaction, or be closed to create cosy private nooks, the home’s fluid flow is an ode to the Japanese philosophy of functional movement resulting in personal comfort. The Du Toits interact around the original axis, each end being visible to the other, while the passageway peeks into various living and work rooms. These in turn all lead to an outdoor deck, which overlooks the verdant valley. The entrance porch and kitchen were both opened up to the koi pond, and a bridge was built to link these front and back doors of the home.
As the owner of The Collection Studio, a decor and interior-design practice located in Port Elizabeth’s popular Richmond Hill, Dicey designs furniture, textiles, ceramics and wallpaper, matching these to client briefs. For her own home, she wished to create an island feel of relaxation and ‘go with the flow’, and the sensory questionnaire she usually poses to clients worked well for this personal project. ‘I always ask things like “What noises make you happy? What texture do you like? Do you enjoy me-time?”,’ she says.
Wanting the sounds and textures of nature to be part of their everyday life, she ensured that all the rooms led to an outdoor area, with the sounds of koi feeding in the pond or trees rustling always within earshot. Layering these sensations with mohair rugs, velvet sofas, Cemcrete floors and white-painted brick walls, the result is a home that speaks of its owners’ love of auditory, visual and textural perceptions.
The furnishings are a mix of old and new. A Gregor Jenkin dining table that Dicey had been eyeing became a birthday gift from Tom when they moved into the new house. It’s surrounded by original Vitra Panton chairs, which travelled with them from their Paarl home. A Le Corbusier lounger that was Dicey’s 40th birthday present rests
in the sunroom, while the formal lounge is filled with bespoke pieces from The Collection Studio. This room of greens and blues is where Dicey’s application of vibrant tones really comes to life. ‘We see colour outside in nature, so why not bring it inside?’ she asks.
And it’s not just colour that has been brought indoors; the plants have come in too, with every room housing an abundance of pot plants. ‘A plant can become your best interior-design feature,’ she says. ‘They grow and change and are never stagnant.’
Having felt that her previous home left her with no room for innovation, Dicey has used her new space to experiment with greenery, paint, fabric and flooring, creating a home that looks, smells, sounds and feels just right. thecollectionstudio.co.za
Dicey’s appreciation of Japanese philosophy is evident in her book collection. The sculpture, made by Magdaleen while still at school, is one of Dicey’s favourite objects; a cane armchair bought from a Malawian in PE breaks from the velvet formality in the living area. Alongside is an heirloom cabinet made for Dicey’s Italian grandmother by Italian prisoners of war during WWII; Cemcrete-coated bathroom walls and floors offset the shade of green flanking the windows. The cane chair was bought at Colonial Antiques ( Colonial Antiques) and the sanitary ware is by Hansgrohe (hansgrohe.co.za). A redesign of the main bedroom did away with the original walk-in cupboard, opening it up to become a soft and comfortable space. The narrow windows on either side of the bed were placed during the refurbishment, so that glimpses of the greenery could be enjoyed. The ottoman, headboard, felt throw and cushions were designed by The Collection Studio, and the reupholstered velvet chair was a gift from Dicey’s father to her mother when she was born. T HIS PAGE, CLOCKWISE F ROM LEFT OPPOSITE PAGE