‘I’m known as a serial mover by my friends,’ says interior designer
Serena Crawford. ‘Not so much by choice or design, but rather through wonderful and sometimes strange circumstances that have seen our family living around the world. For this particular home, the collaboration between myself, architect Philip Briel and builder Mike Gleeson was a labour of love.’
The Cape-Georgian design of her Constantia house was inspired by a set of rooms at Cape Town’s Vineyard Hotel, but with the added influence of the traditional African farmhouse. ‘I love houses that have a feeling of history. My aesthetic is a simple, casually rustic one with nothing that looks fresh-out-the-box, except in the kitchen and bathrooms. As a result, I can have quite grand and dramatic furniture.’
She likes to call it a ‘big-small house’ as it’s essentially made up of one main room that can be divided with sliding doors into a kitchen, a living area and a library. ‘I’m a believer in the principles put forward in Christopher Alexander’s “A Pattern Language”. One of the most important patterns, the visibility of the human hand, is in full evidence: all of the walls are hand-plastered and painted with big brushes. Everything in the house has been achieved by hand, giving it a real emotional resonance.
The floor and ceiling boards in the main room are reclaimed scaffolding. The outrageous treatment of this wood – left outside in the sun and rain, covered in cement, scuffed by boots – has created the patina that otherwise would have take centuries in the shortest time possible. In other rooms, the floors are screed concrete and the walls are also plastered with the intention of looking rough. ‘This often proved difficult to achieve as most plasterers these days do perfect work, so I spent a lot of time on the site saying, “Pretend you don’t know what you’re doing.”‘
‘I’m deeply influenced by South African design and have always been enamoured with the look of a safari camp, especially those by Boyd Ferguson. He gives his spaces such a romantic and emotional aura that the design becomes an experience in itself. Similarly, my taste has been shaped by the incredible local designers I’ve come to know over the years, from Stephen Falcke to Shari Dickenson, to Ineke Henderson, who founded Pezula Interiors and has probably had the greatest impact on me over the years.’
Her home is full of pieces that have personal history. From the mirror, huge and gilt-edged, that was bought off Geoffrey Bennison in the 1980s, to the collection of blue and white china in the kitchen. ‘I end up breaking a lot of them and, over the years, I kept the fragments. The accumulation eventually made the mosaic splash-back behind the stove, created by a young artist from the Spier Mosaic Academy.’
Garden designer Athol McLaggan made the small space work beautifully. In essence, it’s a ‘mini farm’, with beautiful hydrangeas and grape vines. Serena’s home is a success thanks to the collaborations at every phase of the construction. ‘This is a place that speaks to the styles of both myself and my husband, Murry, an amalgamation that is richer and more interesting as a result – much like our marriage,’ she concludes.
Photographs Elsa Young