By Lori Cohen
A hand-built studio-like space, tucked into a tree-filled mountain, proved to be the perfect home for South African fashion designer Jenni Button to rediscover her passion for painting.
My ultimate dream was to have a New York style loft in a wild forest setting and I never thought it would be possible,” says Jenni Button, her petite frame dwarfed by the incredible loft-like space she discovered, and made her home, on mountain slopes in Hout Bay, Cape Town.
When house hunting, the well-known South African fashion and interior designer was looking for a refuge where she could paint—Jenni studied fine art and has recently rekindled her romance with oil paint. She found
it in this unique house with its immense proportions—hand-built by the previous owner a decade ago. “It’s like a big art studio,” suggests Jenni.
“As I walked up that driveway I knew this is where I wanted to live,” says Jenni. The gate, incidentally, sports a sign that warns visitors to enter with 4x4’s only—and reaching the house requires any guest to hike up 40 coarsely cut stone steps. With its dominating, reclaimed factory windows and simple silhouette the home doesn’t reveal much of what you can expect inside from the outside. It’s hard to capture the sheer volume and openness of the space. The word “cavernous” comes to mind partly because the home is secreted into the side of a mountain, and partly because the building is stylishly enriched with stone features, exposed brick walls, and rough wooden floors.
Jenni chuckles remembering that the house had many “Fred Flintstone” features when she purchased it, so her initial focus was on bringing the various elements of the two-level building together with a consistent stone grey palette. Taming the vast garden has also taken up a good deal of her time and energy.
Clearly the loft has seriously unlocked Jenni’s creative juices—the large wall in the lounge area is beautifully freckled with portraits that she has painted. And, while Jenni admits to an affinity for quite masculine design, her treasure trove of furniture suggests otherwise. A self-confessed magpie, Jenni’s portrait wall is flanked by an ornate hand-carved antique door from India and surrounded by a compendium of Eames and Le Corbusier originals (design investments she made in her early twenties), Chinese cabinets, and traditional country French furniture. “‘I can’t stick to just one style. I enjoy the juxtaposition of different influences and textures. And I think the items I have collected over the years work here because it is such an eclectic space itself.”
Amidst the stark grey shades and “taupes and neutrals that I love,” there’s a persistent thread of bronze, copper and brass—a gleaming bowl, a striking chandelier. “I love the warmth and richness of these shades. But I change my house around every couple of months. So you could come back and discover this wall is covered with acid yellow paintings,” she laughs. “It’s the beauty of having a house like this which is such a canvas.”
While Jenni wishes she could spend her days painting with the Klimt-like view of vast trees overlooking the valley at the back of Table Mountain, her fashion business and growing interior design client base unfortunately takes her into the city every day. But weekends are spent painting, or entertaining friends. Bar stools hug the distressed wood kitchen island and the dining room table has tip-to-toe additions to make space for more guests. The half-moon tables, bought from a bric-a-brac shop in downtown Cape Town, “make the table longer, but also add interest,”explains Jenni.
Always the tinkerer, Jenni has plans to enclose the mezzanine floor, which is currently home to her ensuite bedroom, with glass. She is also currently excavating a space to build a wine cellar and dreams of building a studio behind the existing structure. This will provide her with further solitude and a canopy view of her “mad garden of trees.”
The view from Jenni’s bedroom is also perfectly positioned to capture her leafy view, and Jenni says no two days are the same. “When I wake up in the morning the light starts pink and then turns orange and then fades into blue,” she says. In spite of its stony form, it seems this home is always destined to be infused with colour—either by Jenni’s hand, or that of nature.