Curiosity shop

WORDS & PHOTOS Lisa Johnston

In among the cool sidewalk cafe’s, neat decor shops and boutiques of the trendy Joburg suburb of Parkhurst, a small curiosity store throbs with an energy that sets it apart from its well-healed neighbours. Welcome to Life Unplugged.

To step inside Life Unplugged is to be engulfed in a magpie’s nest of shiny, pretty, colourful things of every shape and description. The combination of goods comes as a surprise – a white beaded skull sits on the opposite side of the cash register to a cheap Chinese lucky cat, its paw in a perpetual wave. Multiple paintings and illustrations by local artists nest comfortably with bright crocheted blankets, velvet upholstered cushions, cheap plastic combs, ornate vases and photo frames, glassware, ceramics, funky rag dolls and calculators.

To be unplugged, the shop’s website claims, is to be “disconnected from the mainstream, providing escape, challenging your perceptions, living your dreams and inspiring you to dream more”.

The result is a beguiling hodgepodge of art, design and fun junk choreographed by owner Francois de Villiers, whose taste for the eclectic gives the shop its electric edge. Goods, he says are sourced from anywhere and everywhere, with local artists and designers leading the charge. He might see something in a magazine or shop and source work from there or commission beaded crafts from street artists. Local designers might approach him to stock their wares and other items are imported from across the globe.

“It’s like Christmas here every week,” he says about unpacking the regular consignments that arrive for sale.

For the outsider the retail buzz is just as thrilling – it’s an experience that shares the wonder of sifting through an archaeological dig of popular culture and days gone by.

Life Unplugged, 22b Fourth Avenue, Parkhurst, Johannesburg, 011 023 7955,,