House tour: ‘My ultimate dream was to have a New York loft in a wild-forest setting’


House tour: ‘My ultimate dream was to have a New York loft in a wild-forest setting’
A hand-built studio-like space, tucked into a tree-filled mountain, proved to be the perfect place for fashion designer Jenni Button to rediscover her passion for painting. 

“My ultimate dream was to have a New York loft in a wild-forest setting and I never thought it would be possible,” says Jenni Button, her petite frame dwarfed by the incredible 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, having studied fine art and recently rekindled her romance with oil paint. She found what she was looking for in this unique house with its immense proportions – hand-built by the previous owner a decade ago.

“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 ‘4x4s only’, and reaching the house requires you to hike up 40 coarsely cut stone steps.

It’s hard to capture the sheer volume of the space, partly because of the fact it is secreted into the side of a mountain, and partly because the building is enriched with stone features, exposed brick walls and rough wooden floors. Jenni’s initial focus has been on bringing the various elements of the two-level building together with a consistent stone grey palette – and taming the vast garden.

Clearly it has unlocked her creative juices – the large wall in the lounge area is freckled with portraits that she has painted. While Jenni admits to an affinity for 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 (investments she made in her early 20s), Chinese cabinets and traditional country French furniture.

“I can’t stick to just one style. I enjoy the juxtaposition of different influences and textures,” says Jenni. Amidst the stark grey shades and “taupes and neutrals that I love”, is a persistent thread of bronze, copper and brass – a gleaming bowl, a striking chandelier.

While business takes Jenni into the city every day, 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.

“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.”

Always the tinkerer, Jenni has plans to enclose the mezzanine floor, 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.

Photography by Warren Heath


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