Melrose Loft

PHOTOS Dook PRODUCTION Annemarie Meintjes WORDS Lisa Johnston

Without lifting a paintbrush or knocking down a wall, tribal art dealers Mark and Christine Valentine of Amatuli have transformed their cookie-cutter industrial apartment into a friendly and functional home.

Dramatic leaps of faith appear to be the norm for Mark and Christine Valentine. It was one such leap that saw them start their tribal art dealership, specialising in found objects in southern and South Africa, 25 years ago. 

“We were one of the first tribal art dealers in South Africa,” explains Mark. “At the time there was no understanding of the kind of utilitarian objects we were collecting; it was the 80s and everyone wanted figurative pieces. Then they became cool and now everyone wants them.” 

These days their business, Amatuli based in Kramerville, Johannesburg, has grown to include photographs, figurines, textiles and furnishings from all over the world. 

But while the Valentines’ business and travel obligations have increased, their household has shrunk as their children have left home, which has led to another leap of faith – their move from one of Joburg’s original five-bedroom farmhouses crammed full of their collections, to a slick three-bedroom industrial loft apartment. 

Their new home is the polar opposite to the family home they’d occupied on Kyalami Estate. The custom-built apartment block, The Lofts in Dunkeld West (bordering Melrose), is the epitome of efficient contemporary convenience. From the neat, clean parking garage on the ground floor to the secure apartments requiring minimal upkeep and boasting lock-up-and-go convenience. 

“Our biggest question was what to do with all of our stuff!” exclaims Mark. The “stuff” in question is the Valentines’ prolific hoard of ever-rotating treasures: carved wooden headrests, walking sticks, shells, skulls, tribal chairs and stools, animal-skin rugs, early Zulu earplugs, carved doors, family photographs, beaded bowls, fossils, pipes and spoons… to mention but a few.

“We looked at the loft only once before we bought it,” Mark goes on. “Every house we have ever bought has been the first house we looked at. As long as the bones are reasonable, you can do anything.”

And the bones at The Lofts are excellent. The ground floor is delineated by steel beams, which create clean-cut lines dividing the open-plan space into dining, sitting and kitchen areas. A sliding glass door can be closed to hide the kitchen’s work surfaces and utilities. The high ceiling allows for a sense of airiness, which is emphasised by glass doors leading out onto the patio area, creating a continuous flow between the indoors and outdoors. 

The apartment is also an example of how good architecture can cater to a multitude of tastes. At face value the Valentines’ array of natural-textured furniture, objects and rugs should be at odds with the white tiles, stone kitchen surfaces, exposed lighting conduits and raw steel beams of the industrial loft. Instead, through sensitive positioning of the furnishing and carefully curated groupings of their artefacts, the warm feel of a well-loved and lived-in home has been achieved.  

To fit as much of their prized collection as possible into the smaller space, the Valentines have made use of every available surface. Even the cable conduits have become display surfaces for carved wooden headrests in the downstairs area, and as a hook for two decorative Indian umbrellas in the girls’ bedroom upstairs. 

What saves the space from potential clutter is the clever architectural use of every available source of light. The sand-blasted glass wall in front of the staircase allows maximum light while maintaining privacy from neighbours, and large double-glazed windows in the upstairs bedrooms cut out traffic noise from the busy, nearby Bompas Road.

Their move to downscale might have been a leap of faith, but what they’ve managed to achieve is a lifestyle that many can only dream of – an eclectic space that speaks of their passion for found objects and travel. The convenient security also frees their nomadic tendencies to act on a whim.