South African interior designer Sarah Ord has splashed colour and pattern across every room in her new family home, combining antiques with modern-day fabrics to celebrate all the loves of her life.
"I sound like a Mad Hatter, but I’m actually not that crazy," laughs Sarah Ord, as she tries to make sense of the melange of furniture, artworks, heirlooms and quirky curiosities filling her and husband Nigel’s Cape Town home.
Last year, Nigel and Sarah moved from a small house in the city centre to the family home her mother was previously living in, in the leafy suburb of Claremont, to ensure more space for their growing family. Four-year-old Charlie and his brother Sam would need more room and a garden in which to play.
It had been an exhausting four years for the family: pregnancies, illnesses, opening their new property, The Stack, Cape Town’s private members club, bar and brasserie, only to have it burn down a week later and doing it all over again. And then a house move. "I felt like I needed a new lease on life," says Sarah, who immediately took to painting the walls of the diningroom, kitchen and lounge in a vibrant forest green, inspired by the colour of a ceramic beer mug she’d found in an antique store, now used as a vase next to her bed.
It’s such spontaneity that has her likening herself to Alice in Wonderland’s whimsical friend. The kitchen cupboards changed from white to dashing blue, an old grey oak cabinet turned siren red, and the front door, which had lived through bottle-green, yellow and red incarnations, was coated in blue too. "Once I start, I can’t stop," Sarah smiles. "White just looks blah."
Colour is only one of Sarah’s many interior attractions. There’s also a love of fabrics, lacquered boxes, ceramics, baskets and antiques. A self-confessed Gumtree addict, she trawls the website (where one can sell anything from caravans to bookcases) late at night in search of new items to add to her collection, her home is a visual representation of such storied purchases and auction acquisitions.
Antiques are the only belongings never subjected to her paintbrush, as she values the grain and texture that comes with age-old furniture. Sam’s cot is one such piece, its turned legs and contoured edges evidence of rare craftsmanship. It was bought off Gumtree from a family who had passed it down through eight generations. Another online procurement is the writing bureau in the passage, which opens up to reveal leather inlays. "People don’t know the value of what they’re selling," says Sarah, incredulously. "I bring old things into a modern context, clean them up, and they’re like new gems."
In some cases it’s simply a matter of reinventing uses for materials. The blue-and-red patterned fabric from which the master bedroom’s headboard is made was intended for dresses, while the upholstery on the lounge’s coffee-table ottoman was a woven-plastic floor mat before Sarah saw this opportunity for a different iteration. There are interior-specific fabrics all over the house, too, but very few of the same print. Collected over years, these varied pieces of cloth – from ikat and African wax prints to floral and leopard print – have been sewn into a myriad cushions, turning the lounge and bedrooms into multi-coloured oases of comfort. Nothing is more traditional, however, than the chintz curtains in the dining room. Another Gumtree find, Sarah couldn’t believe her luck in securing this authentic fabric design by the Prince of Chintz himself, Mario Buatta.
A devoted fan of the late British designer John Fowler, known for bringing English country-house style to prominence, Sarah believes that heritage can sit comfortably alongside contemporary if done in the right way. And so she’s not afraid to display wedding-gift crystalware and collector Wedgwood dishes amongst modern Moroccan pots and wooden candlesticks bought on the side of the road. Her art collection is equally eclectic – paintings inherited from her great grandmother, framed tissue paper from a pharmacy in Italy, an oil-stained Picasso print and now-valuable pieces from the annual Michaelis School of Fine Art Graduate Exhibition ensure that every wall in the house has a story to tell.
Having vowed not to leave anything in storage when relocating meant that room had to be made for each item she’s gathered between living in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Paris, and then London and the Maldives with her hotelier husband. "It’s a mishmash of all the things I love," Sarah says of the home. "It’s who we are – colour and craziness."