A version of this piece was published in the Sunday Times Home Weekly, 10 June 2012.
From the verge of Parkhurst’s numbered streets, house number 141 is unassuming. Inside it’s anything but.
The home of two of South Africa’s most exciting young jewellry designers - Geraldine Fenn and Eric Loubser - is a celebration of everything - and everyone - the young couple loves. Every wall, every surface, oozes their quirky, contemporary wit and magpie’s eye for strange and wonderful collectibles.
Eric pulls a sardonic grin. “We’re that house where people walk in and say, wow, you have a lot of... stuff.”
Across the creaky wood floor, glass display cabinets are home to a menagerie of figurative kitsch. The overflowing shelves envelop visitors with childlike wonder at the vast array of painstakingly detailed figurines.
Conrad Botes’ wall hung cloud cabinets are lined with sky blue acrylic and packed full of a collection of wedding figurines in plastic, lace, and fine porcelain. Nestled amongst the collectibles is their own wedding figure - in plain white glazed china.
An Alessi nativity scene looks over at a heavy Baccarat pink monkey glass sweetie jar. Yadro ceramic budgies perch on a candle holder. Pop Christmas ornaments rest on a shelf next to an old doll’s teaset from Geraldine’s childhood, and an ivory handcarved miniature skull.
Geraldine says she collects things that aren’t traditionally valuable. “I never throw anything away,” she says, “I know I can be sentimental.”
Her home is a tribute to carefully curated collections of collections. “I guess it’s part of being a jeweller,” she says. “I love detail, everything that’s tiny and precious.”
Geraldine has lived in the house for 12 years, sharing it only with Marbles and Gollum, two pouting long-mottled-haired cats, until Eric moved in three years ago, after a serendipitous meeting while Geraldine was teaching art history at Stellenbosch.
“It was initially difficult to allow other things into my space,” she admits, but says now they’re buying art together.
Where others have photographs as mementoes of friendship, Geraldine and Eric have art. The couple often swaps jewellry for the fruits of their friends’ trades, and each room of their home is filled with prints, paintings, sketches and scuptures made by all their favourite people.
“We’re mad art collectors,” says Geraldine. “We keep having to change things around to accommodate everything.”
A pen drawing by graphic artist Jean de Wet - bought together at a Goodman Gallery auction, “where we lost a Brett Murray to Danny K!” Eric says - has pride of place in their living room. Francois van Reenen digital Space Invader prints hang comfortably on the distinguished wall including gifts from friends Tracy Lynch and Brett Murray, “his earlier work,” Eric adds.
Constantly shifting art installations are dotted about the house. By the kitchen, a Philippe Bousquet glass cube houses intricately carved ivory pieces - a finger, a fish skeleton, a human eye.
Geraldine looks around, a Ceramic Matters skull lamp catches her eye. “If it’s not inherited, it’s local,” she says.
The couple make it a policy to support local designers - many of whom return the favour.
The lounge - which in previous incarnations has been pale green, wedgewood blue, yellow - is now a warm putty, a simple backdrop for the couple’s eclectic collection of contemporary art.
The charcoal grey ceiling is dominated by an enormous salvaged metal chandelier - painted matte sunflower yellow. White ceramic bunnies sit in front of a raised screed fireplace edged with mosaic roses and an oregon frame made by Geraldine’s father.
Geraldine says she gets her tendency to hoard from her father Laurence. An engineer, he’s the skilled pair of hands behind the free-standing jewellry cabinet which has pride of place by the mantlepiece. A 21st birthday gift, it’s made of different woods from her childhood garden, replete with tiny, perfect brass knobs, and is only fitting that it be filled with treasures.
Despite running the homegrown Tinsel jewellry stores, Geraldine shares a design space at home with Eric, since he moved his studio there last year. Their shared workshop is separated from the main house by an enthusiastically growing vegetable patch.
It’s a small but light-filled working space, dotted about with glints of quirky beauty.
“My side’s the neat and tidy one,” Eric says smugly. Geraldine’s indignant. “It’s messy because I like to look at things, be inspired,” she says.
An old cotton reel holder salvaged from a junk store has become a store of vintage buttons, stones and plastic miniatures, collected from hobby stores and markets around the world.
“The little treasures everywhere will one day turn into jewellry,” says Geraldine, gently fingering the edge of a tiny cameo. “Everything starts with one beautiful thing.”
When Eric arrived, the workshop energy completely changed, smiles Geraldine, “it’s so nice to bounce ideas off each other.”
Eric says he goes stir crazy most of the time when she’s not around, and so escapes the minutiae of his workbench to cook comfort food with bold flavours by contrast. The couple love to entertain, and since the kitchen got an upgrade post-wedding gift frenzy, Eric rustles up 7-hour slow cooked leg of lamb or roast chicken in the Smeg for whoever they can fit in the dining room.
They’ve managed to squeeze dozens of guests around the Gregor Jenkin plywood table with its ironic turned legs, on a motley collection of chairs. Pederson Leonard flat-backs cluster next to several salvaged from junk shops, painted a monochromatic enamel, alongside several classic wicker chairs from Geraldine’s grandparents’ house near Barcelona.
The overhanging Mooi light fitting allows the couple to indulge their love for all things diverse - with different bulbs in every socket, including old-school Edison-style bulbs with exposed filaments.
Eccentricity pervades. Through a curved arch, the bedroom is an ode to flamigoes, cut from the wallpaper in Tinsel’s Cape Town store and applied decoupage-style to the rose pink cupboards. “I love flamingoes. They’re camp with odd proportions and loopy looking,” says Geraldine.
Alabaster bedside lamps from her grandparents contrast with Eric’s Darth Vader night light, perched on the edge of bookshelves next to a pair of impossibly high gold heels.
“They’re too painful to wear. At least this way, I can still appreciate them,” Geraldine smiles.
The house is filled with contrasts. Candy-pop kitsch next to carved European antiques. Warm wit, with an artist’s touch of the macabre. Anatomical models, skulls and an upcycled dental cabinet lend a laboratory-esque edge to a fairytale-scape of miniatures.
And that’s their philosophy - in their jewellry and in their home. To surround themselves with beautiful things - whatever they may be - cleverly placed so they always fit perfectly.