A Fine Balance

It’s a rare case for an interior designer to find and then immediately occupy a home that fits as comfortably as might, say, a well-tailored suit, requiring little more than a discreet nip and tuck as if it were indeed a bespoke purchase. While the designer’s professional instinct might be to reinvent and refit as a matter of course, the discovery of a space that feels so impeccably made to measure can also come as something of a relief. This was certainly the case for Ockert Dixon who, ahead of relocating to Cape Town for a spell, had spent hour upon hour of screen time browsing property sites. He was repeatedly drawn back to one of the earlier houses spotted during his search: a century-old worker’s cottage to which had been added a sensitively realised extension, with simple but immaculate finishes and details. ‘I liked it when I saw it online. But when I walked in I really fell in love with it. At that stage I didn’t have the energy to buy anything that needed renovating,’ Ockert explains.

With projects taking him from Johannesburg to Franschhoek, Abu Dhabi to Seychelles – and now to Switzerland with his husband – the designer required a more manageable, lock-up-and-go space that would double as a satellite studio for his Gauteng-based business, Jacket Interiors. Centrally located in a peaceful corner of upper Claremont, close to a park for exercising the couple’s two dogs, and in gentle strolling distance of restaurants and cafés, the house has proven a versatile and charming stopgap. While it might appear deceptively compact from street level, within its doors the space expands to encompass generous lounge, dining and living areas, merging easily with the open-plan kitchen. On the ground floor, the transition between the original structure and the new building, which ascends another two levels, has been seamlessly achieved, while celebrating the heritage features of the former, from its ornate ceilings to the fanlights and tiled floor.

Just off the entrance of interior designer Ockert Dixon’s Claremont home is the cosy living room, with chairs from Head Interiors, a rug from Paco and a hanging lantern from Morgan and Associates

Adding a playful element to the kitchen is the limited-edition collection of plates from charity Orange Babies’ Plate Project

Avid art collectors, the couple has gravitated to works predominantly in a palette of black and white

For one who admits to being easily bored by fussy schemes and palettes, the elegant simplicity of the home, all charcoal and crisp white walls against black painted floors, was hugely appealing. ‘I find a more muted, neutral effect helps with the longevity of a space,’ says the designer with a knowing smile. Ockert’s only significant alteration was on the upper level, where he converted part of the master bedroom’s large en suite bathroom into a nifty walk-in dressing room, taking care of storage challenges and creating a sense of almost monastic order. ‘The top floor feels like a sanctuary,’ he says of the sunny, tranquil space with its views over the leafy neighbourhood and mountain – best experienced while soaking in the tub. While it’s less about the views on the lower level, the house still benefits from the natural light which streams through the glass doors of the inner pool courtyard, a small but welcome patch of potted greenery. Cosy in the colder months, the living areas here are equally well suited to summer, when the doors are folded open and an extended indoor-outdoor entertaining space is created. ‘It’s a very social house,’ Ockert says. ‘When we’re cooking in the kitchen, we’re still connected with our guests seated in the lounge. It “lives” very well.’

Much of the furniture was custom designed by Ockert, and sits harmoniously among antiques picked up on the couple’s travels or at markets and modern pieces by the likes of Gregor Jenkin. ‘I like to mix things up for a contemporary classic feel,’ he says. ‘It’s all about achieving a good balance.’ A collector by nature, he has a ‘thing’ for antique trunks (‘I’m always looking out for them’), and a passion for art, whether ceramics by local artisans like Ruan Hoffmann and Lisa Firer, or works by William Kentridge and sculptor Cobus Haupt. ‘I buy art because I like it rather than who the artist is or if it’s an investment piece; it’s more about living with it,’ the designer adds. It’s a quality that seems to resonate throughout the home: the effortless finishing touch to its considered sartorial effect.

Ockert at the entrance to his thoughtfully renovated heritage cottage

In the master bedroom, oak cladding on the wall behind the custom-designed four-poster bed introduces an element of warmth to the space

The bathroom offers magnificent mountain views from the tub

He had the oak tabletop for the dining-room table custom made to fit an old workbench base. The artwork is by Bruce Donald

Photography Greg Cox Words Leigh Robertson