"Guests always have the same response when they walk through our front door for the first time,” says German de la Melena as he welcomes us into his apartment in Green Point, Cape Town.
“First off, they gasp at the stunning view of the ocean – and then they gasp some more because they’ve had to traipse up all these stairs!”
When we visited, we experienced this first-hand: the view of the vast Atlantic really is breathtaking; and yes, we were a little out of breath after our ‘ascent’!
German, originally from Peru in South America, and his partner AD Barratt believe that if you move to Cape Town, you should live by the sea. This was the first apartment they viewed six years ago and they were so captivated by it that they immediately signed the offer-to-purchase contract.
Their split-level apartment was originally the top floor of the house, but the original owners divided and sold the floors separately in 1998. A large part of the apartment used to be an atrium but it was fully equipped with a small kitchen, three bedrooms and two bathrooms.
The lower living quarters now have a front garden and the upper level, where German and AD live, has a back garden complete with a swimming pool – an asset they adore. Best of all, the apartment is a spacious 130m².
Indie the Airedale Terrier loves dashing down the stairs to the garden to fetch his rope when it’s tossed out the window for him. A mirror in the shape of Peru has pride of place on the fireplace shelf; the coffee table is from Saks Corner. Geometric patterns and painted frames around the windows break up the expanse of wall.
Although the apartment wasn’t dark like other old buildings because of its glass roof in the atrium and huge windows which allowed in plenty of natural light, the many small rooms bothered them.
They demolished some of the interior walls to combine the living room and kitchen, and removed the glass wall separating the atrium from the front of the house – this is where the dining room is now located, five steps above the lounge. The living areas on various levels have added an interesting dimension to the space.
A support pillar in the new dining room was removed because it obstructed the flow and was replaced with a 12m-long steel beam in the roof. “It was quite a story to get that beam up here – it weighed a ton and it took 15 men to carry it up the stairs!” says German. “But I love the exposed steel; it complements the open industrial aesthetic of our home.”
The dated mottled carpets were lifted and when they discovered the beautiful parquet flooring underneath in both the living room and bedrooms, they were delighted. The parquet is still in its original condition.
“I love the floors, the brickwork, the glass and the knotty pine ceiling. Many people ask us why we don’t paint the ceiling white, but I don’t want to. I like the combination of different rustic colours and textures.”
The view over Green Point Stadium and the Atlantic Ocean is breathtaking. German designed the dining table using an array of trestles covered with a sheet of glass. The wooden lights above the dining table, which were purchased at Design Indaba, are from Ikhaya.
The art of plants
Succulents in terracotta pots lining the kitchen windowsills, three upside-down hanging plants, two giant cacti in large black pots in the dining room, a multitude of orchids and a variety of airplants between the stones on the fireplace are just some of the plants in German and AD’s collection. The fact that so much of the house was previously an atrium definitely planted a seed – now German can’t walk past a plant without buying it.
“When the orchids bloom, it’s a spectacle of pink, purple and yellow,” he says, pointing to the plants on the den side of the double-sided fireplace. The plants get sprayed with water every day and it’s clear they’re thriving in all the natural light that pours into the room," he says.
Upside-down hanging plants and a fern kokedama add a playful touch to the kitchen.
The front bedroom has been turned into a den; a poster from an old Versace calendar adorns the wall. German sandblasted the stone around the fireplace to give it a lovely grey patina.
Paint and colour
The brick walls, which were originally painted white, received a coat of trendy pale grey that’s perfectly complemented by pastel yellow doors and door frames. German also incorporated aqua and painted geometric patterns that break up the high walls.
“The African masks – which, ironically, I bought in Europe – were just lying around gathering dust so we painted them yellow; now they look on trend with the rest of our décor,” says German.
Many pieces of art in the apartment have been painted by friends or family members. Everything has a story behind it or a special meaning, like the old framed poster of a local university’s medical faculty that German picked up on the streets in Spain, and the old painting shirt which an artist friend had set in resin and framed for him.
German and AD like buying designer pieces at the annual Design Indaba – like these concrete lights from 20 eight design in the den; they’ve also been used as bedside lamps in the main bedroom.
German also loves collecting toys, especially rare pieces, but tries to limit them so the house doesn’t look like a playroom.
Read more: How to give your space a penthouse make-over
If you ask him to name his favourite feature of the flat, he says without hesitation: “Everything! But I particularly love its spaciousness and light. It’s airy and the view is something special. We never get tired of it. And the pool at the back makes you feel as if you aren’t living in a flat.”
Next, they plan to re-do the kitchen: they want to put in a sliding door leading to the pool and the ’60s-style cupboards and tiles will be getting a facelift.
After the original support pillar had been removed and the bathroom door moved to the passage, they felt the focal wall was extremely bare. German’s solution was to design interesting shelves for this space which were constructed in pine by Cornel Steyn. (Right) A painting by Daniel Malan.
The exposed chipboard wall unit in the guest room is bang on trend; the small windows look bigger thanks to their painted ‘frames’.
The Frankenstein figurine is one of only 200 produced and was specially imported from Hong Kong; a cardboard elephant adds a quirky touch.
20 eight design, Cornel Steyn: 076 424 9934, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ikhaya Store, Ikhaya: 084 360 2246,
Saks Corner, 074 101 7552