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  • Shelley Dark

10. The Most Extraordinary Day

Today has been the most extraordinary day - a day of superlatives! There's truly magic in the air here.

Cécile and Boyd Interior Design was first stop this morning - Boyd Ferguson and Cécile Tilley joined forces in 1988. Cecile has long since retired and Boyd has designed the interiors of homes and hotels around the world including South Africa's Singita Ebony Lodge.

The showroom extends over four floors of lamps, cushions, furniture, pots and objets of all sorts in this unmarked house built in the early 1900's.

The floors are black and white checked marble. Both brass light switches and tiles are original. Isn't the tile colour remarkable?

I enjoyed this art work. The paper looks to have been cut with a razor and shaded in ink.

Loved these chairs too - I think they're made in Durban.

Don't you love the ceiling of the basement which is the lamp department?

These pink bottles are on a sill behind one of the office desks.

The stairs are original.

The ceiling of the lobby is pressed tin.

There's a magnificent view from the top floor towards the ocean.

And towards the omni-present Table Mountain.

These cute Cape Dutch cottages are next door.

As we strolled down the street, we passed this forbidding fence with metal barbs. I'd think twice if I were an intruder wouldn't you?

By the way, have I told you how amazingly cheap Uber is? A typical ride into town from the hotel costs $2. Actually everything is cheap in South Africa - it's great value for Australians at the moment.

We were now on our next mission for the day: to visit a friend of a friend at her home at Clifton, a beach suburb of Cape Town. It was marvellously arranged by Lesley whom I know from bridge at Noosa, that we visit Lee, one of her best friends.

I'd like to you to meet the extraordinary Lee. She's the dynamo behind the construction of this house to accommodate the furniture, art and curio collections she and her husband Robert have collected over many years.

She worked with architect Jane Visser and interior designers Cecile and Boyd and counts Boyd Ferguson one of her best friends. As you know, I don't have an SLR with me or a wide angle lens, so these few photos don't do justice to this extraordinary home. I wish they could.

It's perched on a steep slope overlooking the bay. Voilà. A frameless glass balustrade keeps the view clear. Bi-folding glass doors on this level run all along the ocean side with sweeping views of the coastline, including the master bedroom. Not bad?

The house exudes a lightness of touch, individuality and warmth in a palette of beige neutrals in floors, wood and furnishings with just the right amount of textural interest. Exotic curios from around the world add colour and life, richness and warmth: a perfect expression of Lee's personality.

Each double spread of this book has piece of Indian wisdom the particular date. Every day, Lee turns the page. If it were to be appropriate today for Helen and me, it would have said 'today's your lucky day'.

​The entry from street level is into the open plan living area: foyer and beverages area, dining, kitchen and living.

Lee would rather be chatting to her guests than being shut away in a separate kitchen.

Recurring through the house, allowing privacy without losing ventilation, are marble screens, especially carved in India for the house. The artisan who carved them sadly died before he was able to instal them. They arrived like a jigsaw puzzle. So many pieces, no plan for how they were to fill all the spaces for them. It took months to work out where they were supposed to go.

The four-poster bed in the main bedroom overlooks the sunken bath and private garden balcony. Can you imagine the luxury of ocean-viewing at bath time? Plus large beautifully organised his-and-hers dressing rooms.

The guest bedrooms are downstairs, each having its own bathroom incorporated into the one large space: basin and vanities behind the bed, showers and bath tubs either side. It's an ingenious way of opening up spaces.

The third level down is bbq and pool area with an amazing centuries-old Indian carved wooden screen and the same amazing views. Down again to huge lower floor office and gym.

If you'd like to see and read more about this amazing house and see far better photos in an article in Condé Nast CLICK HERE.

We're totally blown away by Lee's kindness, warmth and generosity. And what a fun, edgy, discreetly side-shaved haircut!

Apart from inviting total strangers into her home, Lee gives back to the community by running an animal ambulance to collect unwanted pets from the townships. That's the sort of girl she is. Resident pets are this pretty cat with gorgeous collar and two dogs (Molly's collar is set with turquoise), plus five other cats recuperating from maltreatment.

What a special special day. What a privilege to meet her.

On her way to an appointment in town, Lee dropped us at the highly regarded Chef's Warehouse and Canteen.

It's a casual no-reservation eatery owned by Liam Tomlin. We had tapas for two.

Menu as follows:

*Crayfish with Vietnamese dressing and avocado mayo

*Kingklip with ponzu escabeche and citrus segments

*Deep fried squid with Asian pickled cucumber and radish and sesame seed mayo

*Green vegetable and ricotta risotto

*Potato gnocchi with roast carrot, puree and velouté

*Pan-fried hake with broccollini, green beans, garlic emulsion, ginger and tamarind glaze

*Entrecôte with pomme fondant, charred spring onions, brûlée onions and soubise

*Pork with corn salsa, jalapeno vinaigrette and crème fraîche.

Absolutely sensational! Did I tell you that we're only eating breakfast and lunch? No dinner is a necessity!


risotto and potato gnocchi

During lunch there was a woman standing at the door, whom I thought I recognised as our guide for tomorrow. I approached her. Coincidentally it turned out to be Jan Tomlin, Liam's wife - they used to have Banc Restaurant in Sydney.

Some graffiti outside the loo - it reads as if it were written by an Australian don't you think?

No wine with lunch today because our next appointment was a private tour of the new as yet un-opened Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art, metres from our hotel. I was able to swing it by writing my own (truthful!) press credentials, and I can't tell you how excited I've been to be able to see it ahead of the opening in late September even though there's a photo embargo on it until then. It's going to bring Africa to the world to tell its own story in a most spectacular way.

We'd be escorted by Carla White, Launch Director of Communication.

It's in this repurposed bank of grain silos built in 1921.

Screenshot courtesy Google Earth and Afrigis Pty Ltd of the site: the grain elevators were on the higher left hand side, the silos on the right. The museum is in the silos on the right, and also underneath the Silo Hotel which occupies the top six storeys on the left.

Zeitz MOCAA is one of the most exciting projects in the world today, and certainly the most exciting architectural space I have ever seen. It's taken a special recipe to make it happen.

Here are the ingredients:

1. One very wealthy German businessman, Jochen Zeitz, who fell in love with Africa in his twenties and has been collecting African art ever since.

2. One historic but abandoned bank of grain silos on the Cape Town waterfront just crying out to be developed.

3. A joint company of private developers and the government who are prepared to form a partnership with Jochen Zeitz.

4. A common desire for Africa to have a world-class museum of contemporary art.

5. An English architect called Thomas Heatherwick whose genius idea was to digitally scan a grain of corn, and carve out an atrium to that shape inside the silos.

I phoned Carla to say we were on our way. She said she hoped we wouldn't mind but we'd be joined by three other people on the tour, and then told me how to find the temporary entrance.

When we arrived, she was with a woman and two men. She introduced them as Liz Biden, Matthew Biden and Simon Mandy.

I hope I didn't gape, but I certainly felt like it. Liz Biden. Owner of the Silo Hotel and art collector. Matthew her son, the Managing Director of their hotel chain, the Royal Portfolio Group. Simon, the Marketing Manager for the group.

Did I say that magic is happening? It gave me goosebumps.

The tour of the museum was simply a dream. The grain-of-corn-shaped soaring atrium is beyond words. The silos were sliced from beneath with gaping holes above. The architects and engineers weren't sure while they were being cut whether the whole complex would remain supported or simply collapse. The concrete in the silos proved to be in perfect condition, the structure stayed upright, and the steel turned out to be stronger than any steel made today.

Staircases and lifts are in the spaces between the silos. Steel walkways cross from one side to another at the edge of the building.

photo of a Cyrus Kabiru painting in the Silo Hotel courtesy Royal Portfolio

We walked through three floors of the gallery spaces, all in a colour palette of, you guessed it, oatmeal and grey. That is, apart from one gallery whose four enclosing walls are densely hung with a collection of self-portrait eyewear photos by the Kenyan artist Cyrus Kabiru. The walls in that room are painted rust brown and the effect is stunning.

Carla explained that things are moving all time at the moment. As art arrives it's hung near the doors on each floor, and then moves as its space is ready.

The art on the walls, or installations installed so far, are a graphic and moving story of Africa. A film of a black woman struggling up a never-ending mountain slope with a huge load on her head. An undulating line of beer bottles suspended on rope, hanging from the ceiling, representing petrol bombs. Several screens placed at angles in one room all with moving waves of water projected on them.

Another series of rooms which symbolised the hopelessness of life in dingy rooms. A fun work of a nest of snakes made from false fingernails. A whole large room whose walls are entirely covered with completely beaded whitish squares, the only colour in them made by oil from the fingers of the workers who did the beading. A whole room full of dark red clay-coloured holey house bricks suspended from shiny red rope by hangman's nooses.

When the tour was over, I asked Liz if we might have a photo with them. She very graciously said, Yes of course. Would you care to come back to the hotel for a cup of tea or coffee and cake with us?

We sat chatting in the bar area with them, overlooking Cape Town, drinking 'red cappucinos'. They're made by grinding rooibos to a fine powder and putting it through an espresso machine.

This is Lee, the barista.

Liz invited us to visit La Résidence, their hotel in the wine lands, and asked me to email her if we decided we have time. It's a shame we don't. Wasn't this another special special meeting? Aren't we lucky?

This is Jess who looked after us on Saturday night (I still have to tell you about that!), and took us up to the rooftop today after Liz left.

We took photos of the stunning views.

With the Cape Grace Hotel way down below! Where I am right now at my desk. It's time for me to go to bed. A girl can't take all this excitement without a good night's sleep!

Tomorrow we're being picked up at 9am to go to the wine lands with our guide Pam. It's going to be brilliant too.

I'm so glad you are with me to share this whole adventure!

Night night buddies,

ps Pssst pleeeeeese don't tell anyone but we haven't had time to go in the cable car up to Table Mountain. Shall I post a photo of the view for you from google? -:)

shelley dark, writer 

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