Johannesburg Home

WORDS Graham Wood PRODUCTION Klara van Wyngaarden PHOTOS Marijke Willems

Sense and sensibility combining glamour and humour with an underlying sense of a new, emerging lifestyle, interior designer Julia Day carried out a lockdown refurbishment of a Johannesburg townhouse that reflects on our altered relationship with our home.

The pandemic, the lockdown and particularly the work-from-home phenomenon have prompted many of us to reconsider what we want and need from our home. “The refurb of this house was done during lockdown,” says interior designer Julia Day of Julia Day Interior Architecture and Design.

Pre-pandemic, it had been more neutral and subdued – a calming sanctuary to soothe the senses and provide respite from the stresses and strains of corporate life. Lockdown, however, demanded something different. “I think, during that period, people felt an urge to create their own stories,” says Julia. Rather than neutrality, home needed to provide an “emotive response”. The sense of vibrancy and glamour we might normally seek elsewhere needed to infuse our personal spaces. After all, Julia adds, “We weren’t getting it anywhere else.”

As restrictions lifted, and we found ourselves seeing friends and family again, that too placed more emphasis on entertaining at home. “That was the revolution in lifestyle,” says Julia. Travel restrictions remained in place, so the sense of discovery, adventure and cultural richness that comes from travel was – and in many cases is still – denied us. “So, bring the glamour in, bring the feeling of travel in, bring in the fun aspects of imagining that you could be somewhere else,” says Julia.

She found inspiration in the images of American photographer Slim Aarons, famous for the way his photos of the 1960s and ’70s heyday of California Modernism and poolside parties captured a moment when the concept of glamour chimed with a vibrant new kind of design, and the lifestyle had a distinctive “look”. The outdoor lifestyle of that time also found new resonance, given our need for social distance and fresh air.

johannesburg home
The pool area speaks of an era of outdoor entertaining reminiscent of Slim Aarons’s famous photographs from the heyday of Californian Modernism.

So, without too much seriousness, Julia re-envisioned the house as bright, joyful and open to the pool and courtyard. The outside entertainment area became the focus, and the curvaceous, sensuous outdoor Framura rocking chairs and pool loungers from De Padova were upholstered in bright yellow. Julia custom-designed circular golden planters with potted palms, and added lush landscaping. The dining table is surrounded by Sundance chairs, also from De Padova. It’s relaxed and comfortable, with a sense of fun – perfect for entertaining.

Travertine floors – a modernist classic – run seamlessly between inside and out. The indoor lounge became less a central space in its own right, and more like a cocktail lounge designed to be an extension of the outdoor entertainment space. (A sunken lounge with a fireplace exists for chillier days and nights when the focus needs to be the hearth.) The white Erei sofas from De Padova, like clouds, are perfect for perching upon, and connect indoor and outdoor social zones.

Inside, a richer tactile dimension was introduced with textural wallpaper, and stone and timber cladding on the walls, bringing the outdoors in. A formerly under-utilised kitchen nook was converted into a dark, rich, dramatic dining room. The black-and-yellow patterned wallpaper from Robin Sprong, daringly hung with an array of artworks, imparts a moody intensity to the room. There’s a heady combination of local and international contemporary art and design throughout the house, which has become a gallery for a collection assembled over many years. Much of the sense of discovery, the ongoing richness and the layer upon layer of interest comes from the sense of discovery these items bring. “When you walk around the house, there’s always something to see,” says Julia. “There’s always something that catches your eye or something to discover, which is really special.”

In relation to this dimension of the home, she provided almost unconscious aesthetic prompts to guide you through. The variety in art and design means the interior doesn’t have “one look”; rather, she sought to create a conversation between pieces.

Pops of colour – such as the custom red elements on the sofa legs, which are picked up in the Dokter and Misses Moonjelly lamp – originated in the homeowner’s collection of artworks by local artist Justine Mahoney. “It’s a reflection of a personality,” Julia says. “And it’s also a space where people want to linger, because they want to discover the story behind each piece.”

As well as creating elements of fun, fantasy and escape, then, Julia’s refurbishment also maintains a rich, personality-infused, emotive experience of home. At the heart of it, this house and its collections say something profound about the relationship between the best of local and international art and design as it relates to the way we live our lives.

It perfectly captures the relationship between the importance of a local, homegrown sensibility and a global awareness that characterises the zeitgeist now, and will for some time to come.

Looking for more architectural inspiration? Take a look at this colourful, light-filled Melbourne Home.