While designing the look of this UK home, John Jacob Zwiegelaar drew on the age-old practice of idolising the out of the ordinary as inspiration. As such, he conjured an aesthetic which includes elements of the client’s South African heritage.
Here, in the context of London living, African artefacts and textures take on the effect of the exotic and precious. If we look at history, rarity has always been equated with beauty, explains Zwiegelaar. With this as a starting point, the designer chose to focus on an aspect that would provide a foil of its surroundings. ‘When I design a space, I like to bear in mind what will stand out as significant in the settings, says Zwiegelaar. In Joburg or Cape Town for example, a bronze African bust or string of brightly coloured beads is commonplace, expected even. But here they take on an otherness and a sense of mystery. The clients have a home in South Africa, too where they spend part of the year – one that is completely different to this smart London house with its understated sophistication. ‘Their Johannesburg home is a lot more traditional, more feminine, says Zwiegelaar. This is in part the reason for an absolute lack of frivolity or fancy in this newer project, as the designer consciously took a radical departure from what they already had. Aside from a few pieces that the owners wanted to move to their new house, there is no resemblance in style and the London home offers an opportunity to live differently in this part of the world. This project too, was a different way of working with Zwiegelaar’s customary method. While he normally gets involved from as early as the building stages, this house’s shell was complete down to the cornicing and fully fitted bathroom and kitchen and only in need of decorating once he came on board. Far from a licence to do whatever he wanted though, the architecture of this seemingly blank canvas still needed to be tied into the decor. I’m an adamant believer that there should be a synergy between design and decor. The decoration of a space should contextualise the architectural detail and vice versa, says Zwiegelaar. In this case the modern structure, although complete, was devoid of any defining characteristics so he set about adding layers. ‘There weren’t enough architectural elements to give the decorating meaning, he explains. The more surface level aspects were also particularly bland. To counteract this, the designer laid a grey sisal carpet over the shiny cream travertine and onto cream walls he painted a sophisticated but subtle taupe. Next to go was the yellow tone of the timber staircase, and in its place, came a richer deeper stain, in keeping with the new layers of complexity throughout. Zwiegelaar’s design signatures were brought into the mix at the decorating stages – tailored, customised and contemporary pieces give insight into the level to which he went to effect the staggering transformation of a generic shell into a bespoke and luxurious home. Tactile materials too add complexity and pieces in bone, hide and wood keep the scheme interesting. The home is geared for entertaining – two levels of living spaces offer separate areas to drink, eat read , lounge and watch movies. The foyer on the entry level give way to a kitchen and open- plan dining room and’ kitchen lounge’ as well as a super-chic sitting room, all of which look onto the lush expanse of groomed garden – a treasure in London’s urban landscape. Down a level is a cocoon – like bar and cinema lounge, divided by geometric wood screens designed by Zwiegelaar to divide up the shapeless space. ‘I’ve used the screens in a few places in the house to add that sense of architectural articulation I was looking to enhance, he says. He has subtly given each living area its own personality and palette, the colour too translating the honesty of an African – inspired aesthetic – simple hues communicate clearly the strength and elemental quality of the design. The purpose of each too, is conveyed through the mood Zwiegelaar’s created in each with his colour and object choices. The kitchen lounge is the most casual of three – light and airy with splashes of fresh apple green. Here one is encouraged to look out and onto the magnificent garden with its sprawling lawn and statuesque trees. Conducive to relaxed dining and socialising, the space leads out onto a further outdoor sitting area for when the weather obliges. The sitting room – on the same floor – sophisticated and formal in tones of grey, charcoal and black with occasional touches of cherry red. ‘Within the second level living spaces I consciously kept the palette monochromatic, so as to allow the intense green of the garden to pop. The shade is so powerful that the room can handle the lack of colour, says Zwiegelaar. The lower level’s bar and movie lounge is the moodiest – the rough wooden objects are offset by glossy – black surfaces and create an intriguing sense of tension. The accent colour here is a spectrum of golds – from deep bronze to the sunshine yellow in a graphic bar side artwork. Zwiegelaar’s affinity for symmetry too, is evident in his careful balance of customised lamps and objects, which contribute to the feeling of precision and polish. Throughout the space in fact, is a sense of the well thought, so characteristic of Zwiegelaar’s style.