PHOTOS: Michael Le Grange | PRODUCTION: Sumien Brink | WORDS: Errieda du Toit

At Decorex Cape this year, the award for best stand went to Marcelle Crowther of Hocus Interior Design for her dramatic interpretation of the show’s theme, Embellishing Space.

Marcelle Crowther is a disciple of white. She even lives in a snow-white house. But, at this year’s Decorex Cape, she revealed her dark side. ‘With embellishment as a theme, it is all too easy to fall into the trap of excess,’ she explains. ‘I wanted to create a feeling of real luxury in a space unashamedly dedicated to self-indulgence and small pleasures – a space exclusively designed for personal comfort.’

For the owner of Hocus Interior Design, modern life is too bare of ritual. ‘We all need rituals, even if it is only lighting a candle when you get up in the morning, or pouring an evening drink into the delicate glass you bought on your last trip to Berlin and kicking off your shoes to a Buddha Bar CD.’

Near a weathered table, the words ‘Eat, Work & Play’ in wire reflect the philosophy of Marcelle and her architect husband, Servaas, while updated proverbs projected against a darkened wall provide a light show of irreverent wit. ‘A new broom sweeps clean, but an old interior decorator knows all the nooks and crannies,’ says one, while another jokes: ‘Every dark cloud has a silver lining – or whatever the latest fashion colour may be.’

‘For me, interior decoration has little to do with the latest trends. My inspiration is an idea rather than a beautiful piece of fabric; a mood rather than a striking pattern, colour scheme or style of decor.’ Nor does everything need to be planned down to the last detail, for example the gold cactus sculptures – a bargain among all the cutting-edge design.

For the ritual of the evening meal, a weathered table top becomes the canvas for a still life with a feast of choice nibbles: purple figs and pistachio nuts, bread and wine, grapes and olives. There is also cheese under a glass dome, halva, quail eggs, salami and biltong shavings. When you kick off your shoes, you become aware of the pebbles and macadamia shells under your feet.

The dark theme

The colours are a palette of matt and shiny, dark and light, shadows and reflections. Light comes from all sides except the ceiling: the space glows with standard lamps of perlemoen mosaic, bought at Maison & Objet in Paris, while bright fluorescent lights under the sofas illuminate the sitting area and shed light on a wool carpet designed by Marcelle and made by Leechi.

Light bounces off the coffee table, flirts with stainless steel, dances in a wall panel of mirror tiles. Candles flicker in a formidable old French candelabra made of tin, flames lick over white pebbles in a freestanding glass trough. ‘I used the gas fire as a focal point because the dark theme would not have worked without it. When it comes to creating atmosphere, light and flames are the most powerful elements.’ The flames strengthen the illusion of a misty forest. Marcelle drew on some of her favourite visual images to express the dark mood and had them transformed into unique wallpaper by Smart Art.

Velvet sofas and a glass coffee table covered with fascinating objects make the intimate sitting area even more inviting. Scatter cushions in moss green and berry coloured velvet shine in the dark. An ottoman with a stainless-steel frame gleams in Tessa Sonik’s mercury-coloured ‘Liquid Vinyl’. A console table becomes a miniature gallery for Marcelle’s collection of handmade glass. The glass vessels not only play with light and dark but also fulfil a practical role: Marcelle contends that she cannot arrange flowers, preferring to place a striking single branch or bloom in each vase.

‘My idea of luxury is to have every corner of a room carefully thought out.’ On a side table in a conversation corner, a Fântome clock, designed by Yee-Ling Wan, keeps time. The scrolls on this ghostly clock are repeated in the cutouts on a Perspex wall panel nearby. This pattern finds its way through the darkness to the ceiling. Against the wall, a Chinese proverb flashes up: ‘Better to light a candle than to curse the badly lit room’.

• Hocus Interior Design: 021 425 1317 (Green Point), 021 913 0811 (Welgemoed)

• Decorex Jhb 8-12 August: www.decorex.co.za