Cape Town Penthouse

WORDS Sam Woulidge PRODUCTION Sumien Brink PHOTOS Jan Ras


Brian and Cecile Paul call many places home, but their Cape Town apartment with its spectacular views of Table Mountain has a special place in their hearts.

There is a hat stand as you enter the apartment, and from it hangs a collection of elegant and cheeky vintage hats covered in classic Royal Stewart tartan – a marker that Brian, an architect of Scottish descent, and Cecile, a Namibian-born vintage obsessed fashion designer, are in residence.

In the years that they have been married they have lived in Scotland, Italy and now South Africa. For Brian, their Mother City home was love at first sight. “We used to live in the city centre in Edinburgh in an apartment overlooking Edinburgh Castle so we wanted to do the same here in Cape Town. And now, instead of having a view of an ancient castle, we have an uninterrupted one of Table Mountain.”

When asked about the energy or the mood of the apartment, both Brian and Cecile are firm about the desirability of their location. “Sometimes it can feel as if the city is bursting in – you hear the recycling trucks loading up the bottles of the drinking establishments that surround us – but at other times it’s just hours and hours of tranquillity. And you look at the mountain and everything is bathed in sunshine. It’s ever-changing, and that’s probably why I like it. There is always something different.”

“I love how the light bounces off the surrounding buildings,” Brian enthuses. “And on a Saturday night you know all about it,” Cecile chips in, but you get the feeling that not only does it not bother her, but she rather likes it; she likes this a lot, this gritty proximity to Long Street and its eccentric, eclectic frequenters. The space was originally built and used as offices, a fact which did not deter this creative couple. They spent five months completely stripping and cleaning it and painting it all white. They also replaced the windows and added a kitchen and bathrooms. As the architect, Brian created the bare bones that he wanted and Cecile, coming from a creative background and with her love of fashion, was responsible for the interiors. When asked if they share the same aesthetic, they both laugh.

“Pretty much. Brian is a little bit more conservative, but I usually get my own way,” Cecile says, smiling. “Sometimes I have to walk through and declutter, as it all gets a bit busy…” admits Brian.

According to Cecile there is no need to buy new things when you still love the things you have, so they shipped many of their much loved pieces of furniture from Scotland to South Africa. They wanted to bring their old antiques into this contemporary space. All the pieces are well travelled. “We have a farm in Barga, Italy; it’s close to Lucca, where there is an amazing vintage market, and we’ve bought some amazing pieces there. Whenever we’re at the farm I go scouting for the boxes of old crystal chandeliers.”

Their taste is delightfully personal and often quite quirky. Brian is attached to a particular late-19th-century Gothic church chair that he bought as a student at an auction in Scotland; the worn upholstery remained until the move to Cape Town, when he decided to upholster it with Springbok hide. Cecile loves the row of Tretchikoff pillows that line an old leather sofa. “I know they are so kitsch, but they are also so South African that I couldn’t not use them.”

There are Venetian masks and a staghorn chair. There are copper crowns and a fun fat-lady statue that once broke into a thousand shards and that Brian painstakingly pieced together because it had sentimental value to them. And Cecile’s collection of vintage hatboxes is beautifully displayed and her velvet top hats are artfully arranged in various corners of the apartment. Because, wherever you lay your hat, that’s your home.