House Tour

IN PICTURES | Steal mod Christmas decor ideas from this monochrome home

Decked out with Scandi-Afri decorations for the holidays, the Cape Town home of stylist Shelley Street will have you dreaming of a contemporary black and white Christmas

09 December 2018 - 00:00 By Mandy Allen
A unique display of Christmas decorations inspired by Shelley Street's love of a monochrome colour palette.
A unique display of Christmas decorations inspired by Shelley Street's love of a monochrome colour palette.
Image: Warren Heath/Bureaux

"We love this time of the year but aren't big on celebrating in the traditional way, especially because our South African summer is so hot. We like to make the season feel special by doing something different with our festive decorations."

In this instance the "we" is stylist and creative consultant Shelley Street and her teenage daughter, Phoebe. The "something different" that she's referring to is a striking monochrome palette that Shelley has fashioned by incorporating cool local crafts with organic elements - a signature that underpins her personal decorating style.

There's no more apt description of Shelley's home than a sanctuary for the senses. We're talking the whole checklist: white sun-drenched spaces anchored by a composed black and white palette, soaring ceilings, nubbly textures, a contented cat dozing on a daybed, large sash windows offering glimpses of a milkwood tree and other tangled greenery, an artful mix-and-match of furniture, artworks and family heirlooms and, from the kitchen, the pleasant aroma of coffee and lemons. Plus, the entire scene is set against the hushed backing track of a radio tuned to a local classical music station.

"I love the monochrome look as well as Scandi design and its association with light wood, so I decided to do a Scandi-Afri mix," says Shelley of her Christmas theme. It seems apt considering her reverence for simplicity that the Christmas tree is a Karoo thorn, its stark graphic form enhanced by a coat of white paint.

"This wouldn't be Christmas, though, if there wasn't something enchanting, so the tree has the sweetest hand-carved wooden birds and papier-mâché baubles that are a quirky take on the usual bling versions," she says.

Christmas crackers made from brown Kraft paper and shweshwe fabric.
Christmas crackers made from brown Kraft paper and shweshwe fabric.
Image: Warren Heath/Bureaux
Painted white, this a small Karoo thorn tree makes a striking Christmas tree.
Painted white, this a small Karoo thorn tree makes a striking Christmas tree.
Image: Warren Heath/Bureaux

Other adornments reflect Shelley's affinity for South African and African pattern, as well as locally crafted objects with a unique, whimsical feel. There's a laser-cut cardboard nativity scene; a small decorative African Christmas tree made from tin; Christmas crackers that she fashioned using patterned brown paper and African-print shweshwe fabric; a herd of beaded zebra that add an "Afro chic" element; and a black wreath that looks like something designed by Tord Boontje, but is made from pieces of fynbos, wine corks and other natural ephemera shaped together and spray-painted black.

These table accessories make a convincing argument for a monochrome festive decorating theme.
These table accessories make a convincing argument for a monochrome festive decorating theme.
Image: Warren Heath/Bureaux
The wreath hanging was made by Shelley using indigenous Cape fynbos.
The wreath hanging was made by Shelley using indigenous Cape fynbos.
Image: Warren Heath/Bureaux

Shelley's black lacquered turned-leg pine table (a fortuitous junk-shop find) is the focus of the festivities each year. "The starting point of the theme was a collection of black and white plates by local ceramist Martine Jackson," says Shelley. "I love their loosely stylised African-influenced patterns. I also drew on the beautiful wares at Africa Nova - I think Margie Murgatroyd is one of the finest curators of craft in SA."

Many of the table decorations are an eclectic union of new and old, black and white, solids and patterns typical to Southern Africa, and everything underpinned by strong black accents.

Here the subtleties are to be discovered in the layering of materials, tones and textures such as beaded placemats, a coarse hand-woven table runner, bone- and-wood serving utensils with vintage silverware and serving platters. There are also creative surprises, like beaded necklaces used as napkin rings and simple white pillar candles of various sizes wrapped in brown paper.

Simple wreath made of twigs painted white.
Simple wreath made of twigs painted white.
Image: Warren Heath/Bureaux
The table decorations consists of crisp white items and typical SA patterns underpinned by strong black accents.
The table decorations consists of crisp white items and typical SA patterns underpinned by strong black accents.
Image: Warren Heath/Bureaux

"All the colours work well in my home and are not out of place among my collections of natural objects," says Shelley. "So even though the Christmas decorations are temporarily here, everything still works together on the eye.

"Christmas is spent with family and friends and I prepare as much as possible the day before so I can relax on the day," says Shelley.

Turkey and trifle don't feature on the menu. Rather, the table is laden with unusual fresh salads, an assortment of meats (lamb, Parma ham, simple roast chickens and gammon), potatoes with rock salt and rosemary and, for dessert, "slabs of dark chocolate, pannetone, Italian panforte, great local wines, enough cheese to sink a ship, fresh cherries and vanilla bean ice cream.

Shelley's workspace exposes her talent for making monochrome interesting and engaging.
Shelley's workspace exposes her talent for making monochrome interesting and engaging.
Image: Warren Heath/Bureaux
The open-plan kitchen is an inviting but practical, utilitarian space.
The open-plan kitchen is an inviting but practical, utilitarian space.
Image: Warren Heath/Bureaux
Shelley's bedroom has a simple and unadorned purity.
Shelley's bedroom has a simple and unadorned purity.
Image: Warren Heath/Bureaux
The all-white bathroom was fully renovated to incorporate a contemporary tub and large window.
The all-white bathroom was fully renovated to incorporate a contemporary tub and large window.
Image: Warren Heath/Bureaux

"Let's just say no one goes hungry," she laughs.

"Everyone arrives at around 12pm. We open presents, chat and then head to the table at around 4pm. Lunch extends into evening when we light candles, turn on the fairy lights and carry on until we all begin to fade. Sometimes Phoebe treats us to her piano tunes or plays guitar and we all sing along.

"The place is a happy mess by the time everyone leaves and I don't do anything except load the dishwasher. It's always memorable for being a relaxed day with an abundance of the best sort of laughter - the kind that makes your cheeks ache."


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