Perfect Small Space

“Our art wall is the first thing visitors see when they walk into our home,” says Jean-Pierre de la Chaumette. “Almost everyone engages with us about it and wants to know the story behind each piece.”                                                                                                        

Artworks replace views in this Victorian cottage where JP lives with his partner Jonathan Bain. They’re a necessary escape in a home that’s a confined space surrounded by neighbours—one of a small row of semis jostling cheek by jowl in the trendy part of Green Point—a block up from Somerset Road where property is at a premium.                                                                                                     

The house covers 100 square metres, including a narrow strip of courtyard. Yet space is not a major issue, thanks to an ingenious renovation that entailed removing the walls of the two front rooms and making the living area open plan. Nor does the art hijack the roominess: abstract pieces juxtaposed with photography, prints, watercolours, charcoal sketches, woodblock and oils.

“Living centrally within a city usually means you have to compromise on space,” says JP. “With the renovation we lost a bedroom but gained a lovely living space with incredible flow.” For example, though the dining table beside the kitchen island normally accommodates eight people, for Jonathan’s 40th birthday the couple happily seated 18 for dinner. They hired trestle tables to make one long comfortable stretch into the lounge area.                                                                                                                                                 
Extending a small space is all about thinking out of the box, being creative and innovative. JP combines styling interiors with his day job as a busy publicist. Jonathan is a creative director and partner in a Johannesburg advertising agency, as well as an excellent illustrator. It’s a talent he inherited from his artist mother Winnie Bain, some of whose appealing drawings and woodcuts are on these walls.

The couple split their time between this semi and their Johannesburg apartment in Sandton (where Jonathan spends the week.) That’s an even smaller property than their Green Point home. JP says having two smaller homes is less maintenance-intensive and more manageable. Clever storage concepts keep them organised, with surfaces clear.                                                                                                            

The kitchen island has cupboard space below, and there’s lots of vertical storage in shelves that go up to the ceiling. In the bedroom, along with the deep drawers created for the couple in the narrow bedside tables by their friend Justin van Breda, there are pull-out units under the bed that accommodate JP’s ever-growing shoe collection.                                                                                                                                         
In the bathroom next door they’ve saved space by having a wetroom for the shower, and added spice with an inspired white ceramic menagerie attached to the white tiles—small heads of rhino, ram and springbuck. On the wall opposite are three pieces they teasingly call their Blue Period: a Willow pattern plate, along with Frank van Reenen’s Shy Girl and Sarah Pratt’s Chinese shadow puppets in a Karoo setting.                                                                                                                                       
Another smart storage move was to have the attic reinforced by Loft & Ladders, and a retractable ladder attached to the trapdoor in the ceiling that they can pull down with a long hook, and fold back up again just as easily.                                                                                                                                                 
JP admits the attic has become a bit of a dumping ground. “We’re curating a growing collection of ‘undecided’ artworks up there. Viewing by appointment only. But we do try to be disciplined and not allow things to pile up. I regularly organise our clutter into piles for recycling, donating and selling on Gumtree. It’s an on-going chore.”                                                                                                                       
Their tastes in art overlap, with the extremes rather polarised. “As a copywriter Jonathan is partial to art involving typography,” says JP, “while I lean more towards the abstract, which Jonathan doesn’t like so much. Yet somehow we manage to curate a suitably harmonious space. He’s also a fan of vintage posters. I’ve banished all of his Japanese James Bond movie posters to the Joburg study.”                                               

Their art wall in the lounge area features a sizeable collection of work, stretching from floor to ceiling. One of the ways the couple refresh it is with annual trips to that British institution, the Royal Academy of Arts’ Summer Exhibition. JP used to visit it when he lived in London and it’s where he and Jonathan together bought the first piece in their collection five years ago: one of the provocative autobiographical works for which the enfant terrible of the art world, Britain’s Tracey Emin, has become famous.                                                                                                                                                          
“Tracey Emin’s Sex Sydney was initially a visceral purchase,” says JP. “The fact that it was Emin was a bonus. It cost us 400 pounds in 2012 when the rand was still okay, and we love it. It’s rude, androgynous and has a wonderful sense of fluidity. We were drawn to it from across the room even before we knew who the artist was. Ms Emin has been spamming us ever since.”                                                                                                                         
The two of them have attended the Summer Exhibition four times. It’s the world’s largest open submission exhibition, with over 1 000 works in all media on show, a mammoth three-month-long indication of what’s currently going on in contemporary art.                                                                                                                     
“The Royal Academy’s curation process generates a diverse selection of established and emerging UK-based artists,” says JP. “The wonderful thing about it is that you never know what you’re going to come home with. We treat it as a completely immersive experience and do at least two fairly brisk circuits of the halls before homing in on our favourites. Then perhaps a final slightly more languid tour of these favourites before purchasing according to our budget. Although we don’t put pressure on ourselves to buy, we never come home empty-handed.”                                                                                               

They often choose artworks that are thought provoking, like the print they acquired at the last Summer Exhibition entitled A Fall of Ordinariness and Light. These four fine pencil drawings by Jessie Brennan focus on the much-debated demolition of the London council housing estate Robin Hood Gardens, which had initially been conceived as a community utopia.                                                                                                                     
As an interiors stylist, JP knows the importance of where and how you hang your artworks. “On a recent interior design project for an advertising agency I had the privilege of working with a respected gallerist and he opened my eyes to different hanging styles. Pieces with commonality were grouped together and we completely abandoned the linear style of hanging for a more haphazard approach.                                                                                                                                                        
“I find that laying pieces out on the floor helps to get a sense of what works and what doesn’t. I keep a pot of Polyfilla and paint, for touch-ups. Although we don’t usually group similar styles of work together, I’ve created a bit of a black and white section in our study. Larger pieces deserve their own wall or space and you should allow breathing room to permit proper absorption.                                                          

“We don’t skimp on frames. Bad framing takes away from the art. I regularly reframe pieces, as I find an injection of new materials and colours transforms the art. Wessel Snyman Creative in The Old Biscuit Mill does our framing and always comes up with interesting techniques. I steer away from non-reflective glass as I find it makes the art flat and static. Reflections offer movement.”                                                                                   

Simple, fine wood frames enclose many of their artworks, like the piece by Spanish artist Tomeu Ventayol that they fell in love with while visiting Jonathan’s aunt in Mallorca. This visually poetic abstract consists of delicately angled brushstroke lines representing Spanish rooftops, but which to an English eye forms the word TILT.                                                                                                         

It’s a striking piece and they’ve hung it in a prominent position. Here, surrounded by the Victorian ambience that gives this small space authenticity and charm—the cast iron fireplace, Oregon pine floors and tongue-in-groove ceilings—it makes a clear-cut statement about the modern artistic inclinations of the couple who live here.                                                                                                                                                    


By Hilary Prendini Toffoli
Photography C&D Heierli
Words: 1289
"A creative couple use their art collection to visually extend their living area"