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This inner-city apartment is full of plants and books

A former magazine editor has created an inner-city oasis – a veritable greenhouse and personal library, artfully styled with favourite objet gathered over the years

Meet & greet

Sumien Brink (former magazine editor).

The property

A spacious apartment in the heart of Cape Town, South Africa.

It was a busy day in the heart of Cape Town when Sumien Brink – a former magazine editor with an unerring nose for recognising potential in a space – bravely entered the incongruously named Impala House, with its modest but beguiling pink marble foyer, to view an office space.

The lift opened directly into an expansive room, literally stopping her in her tracks.

“I was simply flabbergasted,” she says. “I had no idea proportions like this still existed in the city.”

The fact that the former office had only rudimentary bathrooms and a tiny kitchen didn’t deter her from taking on the challenge of transforming this blank canvas into an extraordinary apartment.

Nor did the interior designer she engaged for the makeover project, Etienne Hanekom, bat an eyelid when most of us might have run a mile. Etienne’s first move was to install corrugated Perspex dividers to create two bedrooms – a smart, inexpensive way to carve up a large area.

To provide focus in the entrance, a striking photograph taken by award-winning photojournalist Guy Tillim in Dakar, Senegal, was enlarged to become wall art. Tillim is known for his work focusing on troubled parts of Africa and his photographs resonate deeply with Sumien, who remembers visiting Mozambique on blissfully carefree holidays as a child, but being aware of simmering unrest and the start of the architectural decay that still exists today.

A self-confessed magazine junkie with an unstoppable weakness for books, Sumien has cleverly book-ended her living area with sturdy shelving to house her personal library. The oversized olive green velvet sofa invites hours of contemplation and deep diving into a fascinating collection that spans fashion, architecture, interiors, art and ceramics – practically every subject under the sun. Each book and magazine is truly treasured and filled with memories of a lifetime in publishing.

Never inclined to collect one of anything, Sumien has decorated the wall above the desk in her bedroom with a row of illustrations from Berlin-based artist and illustrator Tina Berning’s book 100 Girls on Cheap Paper. Favourite drawings of classic Cape Town landscapes by local architect-turned-artist Lucie de Moyencourt line the back of the display dressers dividing the living room from the kitchen. Sumien is a fan of artist Jane Alexander and has a poster depicting ‘The Butcher Boys’, a seminal work referencing the dehumanising forces of apartheid, as well as a precious print of hers in the living room. She also has one of her sculptures under a glass cloche in a beautifully styled corner.

The industrial stainless-steel kitchen is a welcoming and delightful jumble of succulents and plants, which jostle for space alongside gleaming copper appliances. They are the perfect foil for the piles of ceramics, trusty frying pans and inherited platters and plates – enough to host a party at the drop of a hat around the long black Gregor Jenkin dining table in the dining area. Industrial-style lighting, made up of gently looped black cords with exposed globes, makes the entire space glow at night.

In the passageway to the bathroom, origami birds hang between blooming orchids, a reminder of the early days of lockdown when everyone was compelled to cocoon in isolation. Fortunately, along came a commission for no less than 500 mustard and blue birds for a window display at a leading furniture store. With oodles of time on her hands, Sumien sat meditatively for days, mastering the art of this ancient Japanese paper-folding technique.

It wasn’t long after this that she began to pursue a lifelong dream of her own. A creative purist at heart, she designed her first range of handprinted and handsewn Flora and Fauna pure linen tea towels. Each one a work of art, they celebrate historical illustrations of plants and animals and come wrapped in handstitched gift envelopes. One would expect nothing less from this hugely talented former editor, who started out in fashion but dedicated most of her life to curating the gloriously beautiful pages of South Africa’s best-loved decor and food magazines.

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