John Jacob Zwiegelaar - I don’t particularly want to tell my own story. I would struggle to define my own style or aesthetic preferences because all the work I’ve done today has been for others and not me.
People creating interiors for themselves are forced to confront the notion of who they are aesthetically; this hasn’t been my path to date. I see myself as, say, the ‘facilitator’ of other peoples’ dream. It’s the idea of creating environments that reflect my clients’ value systems that excites me. I think there’s a massive difference between doing a project for yourself, and the end project being interesting and thorough. This has been a skill that I’ve been trying to develop over the last few years. The houses in this book are all results of my clients’ desires and their aesthetic value systems. The reason I used the words ‘value system’ and not ‘taste’ is because peoples’ taste is defined by what they’ve been exposed to. Their aesthetic value system is something much deeper. On an intrinsic, emotive level, do they respond to masculine or feminine lines, traditional or modern values, dark or light colours, contrasting or quiet, muted spaces, orders or chaos, and so on? The references my clients bring me and what they end up with often bare no relation to each other! This is because their tastes generally develop and change by the time I’ve finish a project with them. However, what is key to all my work is that you always see the underlying value system of the client coming through. I’m able to pinpoint their core theme and translate it into an aesthetic idea I would hope with a certain amount of relevance and resonance. At John Jacob Interiors I create spaces which are expansive in their emotive intent. They’re spaces in which people won’t feel oppressed. My focus is emotive rather than cerebral. Like others working here I don’t feel hemmed in by a suffocating aesthetic heritage. You don’t have to maintain an old order; there isn’t one to maintain. This is the new world and it’s all about designing with emotion and feeling. We have no rules and people in other places find our spontaneity compelling and exiting. It’s what the world is looking for – and it underpins what I do. I consider myself to be more of an interior architect than a decorator. I draw the insides of a building, defining the ceilings, doorways, architraves and so on, constructing an architectural idea that articulates the spaces. The decoration forms another layer of information that echoes that same idea. So everything I do is underpinned by rhythm, order and clarity of line; decoration is one thing but design concept and idea are way more important to me. What I mean is this: there is design, and there is decoration. I really believe that it’s important to distinguish between the two. For me, the former is the more important. When people walk into something I’ve done, they often say that stylistically it’s so different from other projects. I’ve been working on. That’s true but only from a decorating perspective. Design for me is all about line. So whatever aesthetic language I’m working in, whether it’s neo-classical or post-modern farm style, what’s going on behind the scenes as it were is governed by a very strict code that uses line to create order and therefore peace. When i walk into a space, I see chaos and want to create order. Creating soft and fluffy isn’t my natural strength. So my projects actually are all uniform. The use of vertical proportion, symmetry and rhythm to create order – is in a way extremely spiritual and timeless. What’s starting to happen globally is that people are feeling the need quite naturally, quite organically, to embrace this. The environments I’m creating are therefore expansive because they allow people to breath in them. They’re easy to relate to. They satisfy the pursuit of peace and calm in a frantic world. There’s a much-sought after humanity in them. As a creative voice, I want to express something interesting and unique. This is it. I don’t want to follow trends. At Queens Road you can see beyond the superficial decorative layer to the rigid formal grid that’s been set up beneath its surface. In the sitting room for example, there’s an almost casual order to the space. On either side of the fireplace mirrored panels express a vertical proportion, so do the curtains alongside them. Even the stacked pictures are locked into this grid which the black and white colour scheme reinforces. The decoration in a way is irrelevant: the picture could be antique Flemish Landscapes or contemporary monochromatic photographs. I’m using them simply as a device to counter asymmetry and disharmony. I want order, and that’s why, for me, the underlying design always comes first. A house in Houghton is another example where I’ve set up the decoration to complement the architectural proportions and to express the vertical. In the entrance hall I’ve used a lot of black to articulate the architecture. The design of the light hanging above the hall table makes reference to the criss-cross detail in the doors in the background; it sets up a rhythm which blends the different facets of the space, accentuating the height and proportion of the columns in the adjacent elevation. This rhythm and this incredibly restrained line are so simple as and I think that’s new and exciting-even though everything in the room may be very old fashioned to look at. A client can come to me with a passion for Africa and another who may want to vomit at the notion of it in their personal environment. Its not my role to judge but to make it work and to make it interesting. My base may be here in South Africa but I see myself in a global context and my references amongst architects, designers and gardeners abroad are huge and varied. Ana while I look to people working all over the world, what I see is not necessarily the culture context in which they work and the decoration that goes with that. Of the people I admire the one thing I guess they all have in common is their firm grasp of architecture-its principles, its history, its context and its decoration. In the end you have to know the rules to be able to break them. The quality of the creative input here as good as anywhere else. We have incredible intellectual capital in South Africa. And that makes us attractive to the rest of the world. From a decorative perspective Im inspired by the amazing richness and diversity of craft in this country. Local influences are important and you can’t escape them, and the hugeness of the South African landscape does inspire you and its colouring is stupendously beautiful and you can’t not be affected by it. All of this is important to my work but it’s only creating a superficial decorative layer. My work has a contemporary local aesthetic but it’s produced in a global context.