The power of contrasts

Combining technicolour cool and bold visual flair with simple, clean, architectural lines, this strikingly furnished family home, known locally as House Stephen, stands out as a classic study in the dramatic use of bright, living colours throughout each and every room.

Stepping over the threshold of Kim Stephen’s gloriously colourful home is like virtually inserting yourself into a collection of her cheerful Pinterest boards. Vibrant colours are everywhere with names like ‘Perfect Pink,’ ‘Tangerine Dream,’ and ‘Yellow Love.’ These bountiful bursts of brightness are stylishly framed within crisp lines that bring elegant, contemporary style, beautiful fabrics and a few judicious touches of whimsy.  

On the one hand, Kim gives us a sense of graceful classicism that includes a confident use of black and white. The black and white ‘works as a foil to the pops of colour – balancing and grounding it.’ Bold colour, on the other hand, mixed with a number of strong pieces give the scheme a dynamic energy. 

The bright orange exterior of the front door, for example, opens onto a lovely hallway and stairwell that features poured terrazzo floors and a textured charcoal wallpaper. A tall potted palm tree work alongside an eye-catching series of silkscreens by little-known South African artist Stephanie Watson. Dated 1974, they are charismatically colourful and reminiscent of the work of iconic SA Artist Walter Battiss—Kim spotted them in an antiques store in Wynberg, she tells us, and instantly fell in love. Now encased in white contemporary frames, they are a good example of the ease with which she makes her design decisions.

The house itself, which she describes as a rustic A-frame shape, has ‘Georgian lines with modern edges.’ It was completely renovated three and a half years ago after Kim, Graham and their son, Jamie (10), had been living there for seven years. Anna, who is three, came along in its immediate aftermath. 


Kim’s use of colour to balance strong architectural elements in her spaces is quite clever. A good example of this is the dark green paint colour she chose for the built-in kitchen cabinets—an unusual selection that works to offset the visual power of the charcoal-framed, wood-burning fireplace at the other end of the open-plan living-dining-kitchen space.

This open-plan area is the everyday heart of the house, and it is made even more family-friendly by having a kids’ play area situated just off the kitchen space.


Beyond the kids’ area is a beautiful indoor-outdoor living space that can be closed up during more inclement weather or completely opened to the elements and boasts another custom-made terrazzo tiled floor. The patio area adjoins the garden and an inviting square swimming pool —as well as a marvellous wooden jungle gym featuring a slide that runs directly into the pool. The views here are spectacular and give the entire property the feeling of freedom and expansiveness.

The garden also reflects Kim’s design flare exuding classicism with a touch of quirk. ‘A formal tropical garden’ inspired in part by the formality of the work of Australian landscaper Paul Bangay, but also by her own childhood channelled into exuberant elephant ears contained by a narrow formal hedge, and a timeless square of lawn. 

Across the front of the dining and living space are French doors that open onto an uncovered, narrow terrace. It was going to have a pergola over it, claims Kim, until she had the idea of using the four huge grey planters, with lime trees in them to adorn the space.

The family’s bedrooms (as well as Kim’s petite home office, which features a fresh green ombre wallpaper by Designers Guild) are all upstairs. Each leads off a hallway that has been furnished as a casual pyjama lounge. Anna’s bedroom is girlishly pretty, with bold horizontal pink stripes that enlarge and open up the space, while Jamie’s room, by contrast, is bold and graphic: one wall features Cole & Son’s Frontier Tile wallpaper and another is painted black.

The main bedroom is more muted (a splash of colour was recently added in form of new artwork above the bed) and the bathroom and dressing room are deliberately separate so Graham, who travels a great deal for work, can get up and prepare to depart without disturbing the kids. The guest suite and cloakroom are both on the ground floor, off the entrance hallway and along a passageway adorned with a large Slim Aarons photographic print hung above a bright green love seat. In the cloakroom, the gorgeous, leafy ‘Martinique’ wallpaper is used—Kim insisted on tracking down the original version of this modern classic the same as is hanging in the Beverly Hills Hotel.

The guest bedroom is decorated in restful, muted shades of oatmeal and sand, with a charming en suite bathroom that has its own little landscaped courtyard—and that Bishopscourt view—as well as custom-made terrazzo floors based on the same design as that used at the V&A Waterfront (here, it’s rendered in smart black and white rather than the V&A’s greens and pinks).

There is little built-in furniture in the house. Kim says she prefers to avoid built-in items and instead uses cupboards, storage units and cabinets that are all individual—and mostly custom-made—pieces. As with other decor elements in the house, this could be read as quite an old-fashioned gesture, but Kim’s take on it feels extremely contemporary. One of the loveliest examples of this custom-built, freestanding furniture is the drinks cabinet in the dining area. Covered with a shagreen-textured vinyl decorated with a circular nailhead pattern, it is filled with beautiful glassware—as well as all the essentials for everything from cocktails to post-dinner digestifs.

Listen to Kim talk about her history as an interior designer and the way she went about creating her own space, and the phrase that comes to mind is ‘investigator decorator’. Known for methodically tracking down the likes of art, terrazzo-tile presses and wallpapers, Kim’s thoughtful approach reflects confidence and brio that ultimately adds to the pleasure of the end results.

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