With its pristine beaches, rambling wine country, and flat-topped Table Mountain, South Africa’s second-largest city is no stranger to heart-stopping scenes. But in Cape Town, beauty is more than skin deep, thanks to a burgeoning generation of dynamic designers and progressive entrepreneurs who are transforming the once-struggling city into a thriving center of arts and culture. Twenty years after the end of apartheid, the Mother City (as locals affectionately call it) is realizing its creative potential, blending a bold vision for the future with a deep reverence for its past. Next year, Cape Town will accept the mantle of design leader when it formally receives its title as the 2014 World Design Capital—an honor bestowed upon the city by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design. Surely the innovators on the following pages had something to do with it.
Victoria & Alfred Waterfront
Cape Town’s harborfront is home to two of the city’s most fashionable hotels. Opened in 2009, the Adam D. Tihany–designed One&Only Cape Town embodies African-contemporary style with cream-colored rooms, dark wood details, and views of Table Mountain. Across the harbor, the city’s grand dame, Cape Grace, bears a top-to-bottom renovation, which was helmed by the firm Weixelbaumer Design in 2008. Each of the 121 rooms features one-of-a-kind touches, such as Cape Dutch antiques, china salvaged from shipwrecks, and handpainted walls.
Christina Bryer Astrid Dahl
South Africa’s traditional art of pottery making has in recent years been elevated to new levels thanks to ceramicists such as Christina Bryer (plate shown) and Astrid Dahl. The former’s intricately patterned porcelain and ceramic plates resemble shells, corals, and even DNA strands, while the latter’s sculptural white clay vases depict flora in various stages of bloom.
The Mother City’s contemporary art scene lives in this once-gritty enclave just southeast of downtown. Goodman Gallery is the neighborhood’s best-known purveyor of modern African art, having launched the careers of William Kentridge (whose drawings and paintings are inspired by the social injustices of South Africa’s past) and David Goldblatt (a photographer known for his portrayals of apartheid). At the Stevenson gallery, an international collection of paintings, sculptures, ceramics, and mixed media similarly reflects the current political and artistic climate of South Africa and the continent as a whole.
With its modern-meets-Edwardian architecture and 7,500-bottle wine cellar, this mansion turned hotel on the Bantry Bay cliffs is one of Cape Town’s most exclusive accommodations. But it is the estate’s contemporary art collection—accumulated by the hotel’s owner over three decades—that makes the property a South African institution. Noteworthy pieces include paintings by William Kentridge and landscape sculptures by Strijdom van der Merwe.
This perfume house’s handblown flacons, designed by the glass artist David Reade, hold organic fragrances reminiscent of exotic destinations. The ready-to-wear line, Chapters, features Chapter 2 (a blend of ylang-ylang and narcissus inspired by Madagascar) and Chapter 5 (evoking Switzerland and South Africa’s Cape Floral Kingdom). Bespoke scents also can be created.
Le Quartier Français
The Franschhoek hotel is home to the award-winning restaurant the Tasting Room and the prestigious gallery Is Art. At the former, executive chef Margot Janse serves an eight-course Surprise menu in a plush 20-seat dining room designed by the acclaimed Dutch set designer Herbert Janse. The latter showcases South African art.
At a former church in the Woodstock neighborhood, the furniture designer showcases his collection of tables and chairs. The South African native’s oeuvre includes such pieces as Baby Papa, a stainless steel–framed lounger inspired by African wirework sculptures; Songololo, a curving, multilegged sofa that loosely resembles a caterpillar; and Stealth, an armchair crafted from a folded sheet of anodized aluminum.
Cécile & Boyd’s
This Cape Town–based duo—the designers behind the safari-chic interiors at the Singita lodges—blends traditional African fabrics and materials with contemporary furnishings and subtle color palettes. The firm’s four-story showroom on Kloof Nek Road resembles a private home rather than a retail space, displaying eclectic pieces such as an orb-shaped hanging lamp made from bamboo and wax, and glass-top tables with bases crafted from twisted tree trunks.
For hotelier Liz Biden, this 30-acre private estate in the Franschhoek Valley is a labor of love. Each of the 11 suites and five villas showcases Biden’s inspired personal style, blending vibrant colors and rich textures with details such as glittering Indian chandeliers, original Chinese scrolls, and antique Tibetan wall hangings. Surrounded by vineyards and olive groves, the hotel also produces its own wine and olive oil, which are available only to guests.
Alphen Boutique Hotel
Set within a Cape Dutch manor house dating to 1753, this hotel in the Constantia wine valley reopened in November 2011 following an extensive renovation by the Cape Town firm Antoni Associates. Whitewashed walls and a 300-piece collection of antique furnishings recall the 19-suite property’s long history, while modern details include gold-lacquered bedside tables and a cheeky rendition of Vernor Panton’s famed stacking, or S, chair.
The designer is known for his sustainable handmade furnishings inspired by forms in nature, and his contemporary creations (Loves Me Loves Me Not side table shown) employ traditional South African techniques such as riempie, a leather-weaving process used by Cape Dutch artisans. Vogel’s affinity for timber shows in his organic forms, which appear sculptural and anthropomorphic at the same time. In 2012, he brought his pieces to the United States through a partnership with the San Francisco–based retailer West Elm.
Ornate and colorful, the cutting-edge creations from this lighting company in the Salt River design district are the result of an innovative method that entails attaching delicate chainlike threads to laser-cut steel frames. Designs include Mandala No. 1, a geometric chandelier inspired by Islamic patterns, and Fuschia, a spiraling arrangement resembling a flowering plant. The firm also accepts private commissions.
Planet Bar & Restaurant
Vintage Baccarat chandeliers, baroque bar stools depicting the British naval officer Lord Nelson, and galaxy-themed carpeting imbue this Mount Nelson Hotel venue designed by the South African firm Graham Viney Design with an avant-garde, if somewhat incongruous, vibe. Equally intriguing is chef Rudi Liebenberg’s adventurous cuisine, which includes Namibian red crab, smoked crocodile, and rooibos-cured ostrich.