WORDS Ami Kapelivich PHOTOS Russell Smith
Interior designer Jaco Janse van Rensburg was working on one of the most meaningful and intimate projects of his career when an unexpected event changed everything.
In July 2017, Jaco Janse van Rensburg’s father passed away. While the death of an elderly parent is an inevitable tragedy, this happened very suddenly and it left behind a major piece of unfinished business. Fanie Janse van Rensburg had lived a large and successful life. When he retired, Fanie decided to move to the West Coast, the place where he was born. He asked his son Jaco, the founder of creative consultancy Envy & Co., which specialises in property and interior design, to help him realise his vision of a house by the sea.
Jaco worked strictly to his father’s brief. Throughout his career, Fanie had lived in large homes that accommodated his large family. The beach house was not so much a downscaling as a simplification, a reprioritisation.
The home was about halfway there when the diagnosis was made. Two weeks and two days later, Fanie died. A few months after the funeral, with the house completed, Jaco packed up his Cape Town apartment and put his belongings in storage. He packed only three changes of clothes, some bedlinen, his computer, a few books and two framed photos, and moved into his father’s house.
The move isn’t permanent. According to his father’s will, the house is to be sold fully furnished to the right buyer. But the effect has been a fundamental shift in not just Jaco’s living arrangements but also his entire lifestyle.
“I’ve taken a bit of a break from my life,” he says, “seeing if I can reboot a bit.” We are chatting at his new workplace – the member’s area at The Stack in Gardens, where urban creatives sit on brightly upholstered furniture or type on their MacBook Pros. Another element of Jaco’s stripped-down lifestyle. “I don’t want to sit at a desk or even see a printer,” says Jaco, “because I don’t want it to feel like I’m working. So we’ve streamlined to work economically.”
Envy & Co. has also streamlined its business model to offer turnkey solutions rather than working directly with clients. It’s simpler that way. And, every day, Jaco drives back to his father’s beach house, where he spends time with his daughter, meditates, reflects, and celebrates a precious life. All precious life.
The house is modern, with some stark finishes like raw concrete and gravel landscaping, but with warmth and soft textures and colours in the detail.
When I ask Jaco if he feels apprehensive about the house being sold, he thinks for a long time before answering. “I’ve never done anything as radical as this,” he says, “so I’ll be happy to go back to the city when the time is right.”
Is this part of his grieving process? Jaco nods. “[My father] never saw the house finished, which was quite a big blow for us all, so I didn’t feel comfortable just letting the space go. I want to live there the way my father intended to. I feel quite close to him there. And being there with my daughter is life-affirming. I find it very healing.”
So that is how a personal and professional project became one final gift from father to son. Not the house itself, but something altogether more far-reaching and meaningful. A lesson, a change, an adventure. A lifetime.