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A life aloft | Jenni Button

A life aloft | Jenni Button

A studio-like space tucked into a tree-filled mountainside proved the perfect home for South African fashion designer Jenni Button to rediscover her passion for painting.

‘My ultimate dream was to have a New York loft in a wild forest setting and I never thought it would be possible,’ says Jenni Button, her petite frame dwarfed by the incredible studio-like space she discovered, and made her home, on a mountain slope in Hout Bay, Cape Town.

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A sober canvas of stone, brick and wood is brought to life by Jenni’s treasure trove of furniture purchased over the years

When house hunting, the South African fashion and interior designer was looking for a refuge where she could paint – Jenni studied fine art and has recently rekindled her romance with oil paint. She found it in this unique house with its immense proportions, hand-built by the previous owner a decade ago.

‘As I walked up the driveway, I knew this is where I wanted to live,’ says Jenni. The gate sports a sign that warns visitors ‘4X4s only’ and reaching the house requires a hike up 40 coarsely cut stone steps.

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‘A friend of mine bought these iron-and-rope chandeliers and then realised her ceilings were too low for them. She gave them to me and I think they work wonderfully here,’ says Jenni

With its dominating reclaimed factory windows and simple silhouette, the home doesn’t reveal much of what’s inside. It’s hard to capture the sheer volume of the space but the word ‘cavernous’ comes to mind – partly because of the fact that it’s secreted in the side of a mountain, and partly because the building is enriched with stone features, exposed brick walls and rough wooden floors.

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The feature wall of the living room is dominated by portraits Jenni has painted since picking up the brush again a couple of years ago

Jenni laughs that the house had many ‘Freddy Flintstone’ features when she purchased it, and her initial focus has been on bringing the various elements of the two-level building together with a consistent stone-grey palette – and taming the vast garden, which has taken up most of her time and energy.

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Jenni and her partner Richard Hebblethwaite

Clearly it has unlocked her creative juices – the large wall in the lounge area is freckled with portraits she’s painted. This portrait wall is flanked by an ornate hand-carved antique door from India and surrounded by a compendium of Eames and Le Corbusier originals (design investments she made in her early twenties), Chinese cabinets and traditional French country furniture.

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While the bottom floor is essentially one large open space, surprise features such as this fireplace in the middle of the room separate it into different living zones

While Jenni admits to an affinity for quite masculine design, her treasure trove of furniture suggests otherwise. ‘I can’t stick to just one style. I enjoy the juxtaposition of different influences and textures. And I think the items I’ve collected over the years work here because it’s such an eclectic space itself,’ she says.

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With pieces sourced from or inspired by Africa, India, China and France all interacting in the living area, Jenni says that she finds it impossible to be tied down by one style. ‘I fall in love with individual pieces’

Amid the grey shades and taupes and neutrals that Jenni loves is a persistent thread of bronze, copper and brass – a gleaming bowl, a striking chandelier. ‘I love the warmth and richness of these shades. But I change my house around every couple of months, so you could come back and discover this wall is covered with acid-yellow paintings,’ she laughs. ‘It’s the beauty of having a house like this, which is such a canvas.’

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The reclaimed factory windows that front the house accentuate the volume of the space inside and infuse it with beautiful natural light

While Jenni wishes she could spend her days painting, with the Klimt-like view of vast trees overlooking the valley at the back of Table Mountain, her fashion business and growing interior-design client base take her into the city every day. But weekends are spent painting or entertaining friends. Barstools hug the distressed-wood kitchen island and the dining-room table has tip-to-toe additions to make space for more guests. The half-moon tables, bought from a bric-a-brac shop in downtown Cape Town, ‘make the table longer, but also add interest’, Jenni says.

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The copper bowl and taps in Jenni’s bathroom rest on thick planks of natural wood. Set against the neutral studio-like space of the home, elements like these add texture and interest

Ever the tinkerer, Jenni has plans to enclose the mezzanine floor, home to her en-suite bedroom, with glass. She’s also currently excavating a space to build a wine cellar and dreams of adding a studio behind the existing structure. This will provide her with further solitude and a canopy view of her ‘mad garden of trees’.

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From the steel lattice headboard to the embroidered French bed throw and the Dutch daybed with its textured fabric, Jenni’s bedroom has a feminine feel

The view from Jenni’s bedroom is perfectly positioned to capture this leafy view, and Jenni says no two days are the same. ‘When I wake up in the morning, the light starts pink and then turns orange and fades into blue,’ she says.

In spite of it stony form, it seems this home is destined to be always infused with colour – by Jenni’s hand or that of nature.

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A collector at heart, Jenni has filled this incredible cabinet from Cape Town’s On Site store with white crockery. The multiple panes mirror those of the factory windows that face them

Jenni’s home is available for film shoots through Living on Location, jackie@livingonlocation.co.za

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With a home surrounded by trees, every window offers a different glimpse of nature

In the zone…

Why Hout Bay?

The actual property does it for me – its situation. The mountain and valley views blew me away the minute I saw them. It’s like living in a forest but close to amenities.

Favourite coffee shop?

I don’t have time to go for coffee, but Richard’s daily hangout is the Board Room in Muizenberg.

Favourite things about the area?

We’re one minute from Constantia Nek, so we’re surrounded by the best wine estates and restaurants. After six years, I still love the restaurant Kitima and go there often. Kirstenbosch is around the corner for great walks, and there’s Chapman’s Peak for cycling and walking – great views while building up a sweat.

Sightseeing spot?

Chapman’s Peak and my veranda.

Advice for people looking to buy in the area?

Make sure you have good security and buy north facing.

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‘I bought this map in Venice. I love how elongated and distorted it is,’ says Jenni. Her bedroom features some of her other favourite items including carved tables she had made in Indonesia, a Chinese screen and an antique Dutch daybed

Contact Details

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Jenni’s dressing table overlooks the living area and the tree-filled garden beyond 

Text: Lori Cohen / bureaux.co.za
Production: Sven Alberding / bureaux.co.za
Photographs: Warren Heath / bureaux.co.za

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