What would you expect the home of an art curator to look like? What sort of broad-brush outline combined with delicate detail can you expect when it belongs to someone with a respected and extensive résumé in the art world?
The Green Point apartment of Christopher Peter, long-time curator-director of the Irma Stern Museum in Cape Town, more than lives up to expectations: within its compact frame, it reflects something of this creative’s enduring passions as well as his art-immersed past. It’s a bijou space with a big heart – the epitome of gracious living.
Christopher’s artistic sensibility was shaped from a childhood spent between the family farm in the Eastern Cape and school in King William’s Town and Queenstown. ‘I used to love seeing the fashion plates in Rooi Rose from the French news periodical Jours de France. They were static, like paper dolls, my favourite pastime: I even had paper dolls of [singer] Sandie Shaw and [actress] Jean Shrimpton – both glamorous ’60s-style icons,’ he recalls. It was a happy upbringing, and one that Christopher credits with his penchant for beautiful things, both natural and designed.
From there it was a short and obvious step to art school, where he became a proficient and enthusiastic student. His life at the Irma Stern Museum (some 38 years and counting) further shaped his taste: the gallery was the Cape Town home of the late, internationally renowned South African artist Irma Stern, and it houses a permanent exhibition of many of her artworks. When the time came to look for a place of his own, sea-fronting Green Point – an older suburb in the Mother City – presented itself as a likely option.
A few pockets remained untouched by the new steel-and-glass modernisation that was taking place in much of the area, and in one of them he found a charming Edwardian building set in attractive grounds fringed by vibrant poinsettias. Lofty ceilings, wooden floors, a traditional fireplace and other old-world features marry to make it a suitable fit for Christopher.
The apartment was originally built – typically of its day – as a collection of small rooms leading off a narrow passageway. Christopher changed the configuration (‘more than once!’) with the help of designer Marco Helfer until it had been ‘completely turned around’ to create a cleverly circular and flowing layout.
The interior ‘path’ that leads visitors through Christopher’s home makes perfect sense: from the small, bright entrance hall you’re drawn into the living-cum-dining area, and from there, into the book-lined second living space, which is filled with works by Anton Chekhov, Jean Rhys and Katherine Mansfield. After some judicious reconstruction, what was originally the bathroom was reincarnated seamlessly as a kitchen, which is surprisingly capacious despite its small dimensions.
The bathroom beyond is the true gem: its previous life as a cooking space has been completely transformed, and with deft plumbing alterations, the installation of a modern shower and a 1940s Argentinian free-standing basin, it’s now both contemporary and classic.
High ceilings throughout give the interior a sense of size that the apartment’s footprint belies. The space provides a sympathetic setting for myriad pieces from Christopher’s life, reflecting his upbringing, interests and travels. This is gracious living at its most playful, yet also with a lightness of touch and an ever-present sense of easy elegance. There’s even a fur stole, echoing an old Cussons Baby talcum powder advertisement.
‘My history is all here,’ he says simply, gesturing towards the library shelves overflowing with an eclectic store of books, and the walls and display cases of memories and mementoes. ‘It’s my jewel box.’