There’s a deep irony to the typographical piece S I L E N C E, by South African artist Brett Murray, which presides over Trevyn and Julian McGowan’s dining room. Located in the quiet, leafy Cape Town suburb of Constantia, this house is many things – at once contemporary living space, gallery for great design and art, chaotic playroom, grungy teen lair and serene oasis – but silent it is not. At any one moment the rhythmic beat from 15-year-old Zachary’s drum kit reverberates off the walls as seven-year-old Ryder and his friends chase tirelessly between tables of collectable art, while the parents prepare dinner for eight.
Many houses would struggle to contain the energy of a family this size – a highly creative and dynamic unit comprising the couple and their six kin, Jacob, 23, his wife Lanty (both of whom work in the family business), Ruby, 17, Zachary, 15, Gabriel, 11, and Ryder, 7 – but this graceful old dame has the strong bones and the stately elegance that only a build from the 1940s can encompass. Its four-metre-high ceilings offer soaring proportions and the old wooden flooring delivers a sense of well-trodden history.
Originally part of Cape Town’s historical Groot Constantia estate and later the Alphen property, the homestead was built for the matriarch of the esteemed Cloete clan, a family who settled at the vineyard in the late 1700s. ‘I got as far as the second room and knew that this was our house,’ recounts Trevyn. ‘It had been on the market for three years at that point and nobody had understood how extraordinary it was.’ The room configuration is unconventional, as she puts it, and it doesn’t have the typical set-up of bedrooms leading off corridors, ‘which is why I think it didn’t sell quickly – people couldn’t quite imagine it as a family home’.
It only takes you a moment when you stand in the entrance hall to fully appreciate the beauty of the house. It’s the spot where you’re offered a glance of the majestic loftiness, the whispers of history and a frame of tropical greenery that transports you from the city into a tranquil outdoor sanctuary. Of course, when it comes to a property belonging to Trevyn and Julian – legendary mavericks and leaders in the South African design industry – the stuff inside constitutes much more than just furniture pieces. Instead, it’s a collection of covetable art and awe-inspiring local work from well-known names such as Andile Dyalvane, Otto du Plessis, John Vogel and Gregor Jenkin, all designers whose careers the McGowans have helped shape.
The living room serves double duty as a showcase for the couple’s vocation as co-founders and CEOs of The Guild Group – an influential organisation of sub-companies that promote African design and its creators. It’s also peppered with evidence of their own ventures in furniture design, such as the recently made modern take on a chesterfield, which curves elegantly around a glass coffee table by industrial designer Charles Haupt.
‘We are obsessive collectors,’ says Julian, who was once a theatre designer in London, trained at Central Saint Martins, nodding to the various vignettes found displaying the work of notable artists such as Serge Nitegeka, Wilma Cruise and Conrad Botes. As a result there are countless objets covering cabinets and surfaces – so much so that you instinctively tense up as a kid whizzes past a limited-edition Justine Mahoney sculpture. ‘Things sometimes get broken,’ says Trevyn, ‘but it’s important that we, and the kids, get to properly live with the pieces that have meaning for us.’
The pair agree that design can take a few knocks. ‘I like it when something is a bit worn, with a bit of history,’ she explains. ‘I think it gives it life.’
While the pair had always been able to run their business remotely – travelling between international design fairs, their former home in Wilderness (a seaside town situated along the Cape’s famous Garden Route) and their first gallery in the hip inner-city district of Woodstock – since their move to town their company has rapidly grown to encompass collectible design, retail, industry development and export divisions. The addition of the Guild gallery to Cape Town’s popular Silo district has been a particular success.
‘There was only so much we could do remotely,’ Trevyn explains. ‘We love being in the heart of the city and the social connection, but we feel very linked to nature here,’ says Trevyn. ‘It’s worth the commute from town to get to the oak trees and lushness of Constantia. It’s all on one level, there are glass doors that swing open and everything interleads – there’s an intimacy here.’
One of the most-used areas is the master bedroom. It’s a spacious, light and breezy zone with a laid-back, cosy ambience, and it’s large enough to accommodate the whole family, with a touch of modernistic flair from a 30-year-old Jasper Morrison couch. ‘I’ll be working on my laptop in the bed and the kids will get together on the sofa.’ Behind the bed an artwork by Sanell Aggenbach adds a touch of playfulness to the sophisticated space.
Structurally, the McGowans made very few changes to the house. ‘The main thing was that we broke through between the kitchen and the dining room,’ Trevyn explains. ‘We live in the kitchen and Julian cooks a lot so it felt very cut off.’
Her husband adds: ‘Because we have a large family, we insist that we eat together every night. Night time is family time.’ And so, alongside the Brett Murray work, the family gathers at the dining table each night, recounting their days and making plans. It’s a beautifully subtle room where, amongst pedigreed pieces, handcrafted furniture and notable sculptures, the McGowans have a chance to connect and regroup.
‘We’ve always enjoyed the houses we live in whether it was in London or Wilderness,’ says Trevyn, as she tucks her feet underneath her on the outdoor sofa, ‘but this place just feels so much like home.’
The owner Design mavericks and co-founders of The Guild Group, Trevyn and Julian McGowan live with their six kin, Jacob, 23, his wife Lanty, Ruby, 17, Zachary, 15, Gabriel, 11, and Ryder, 7 and their dogs Barrett and Jimmy.
The home Located in a quiet, leafy Cape Town suburb, this house was originally part of the city’s historical Groot Constantia estate built in the late 1700s.
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Styling by Sven Alberding /Bureaux
Photography by Greg Cox /Bureaux