bleached-out palette, raw finishes, and an aesthetic that borders on the monastic are the hallmarks of this captivating home in Cape Town’s central and historic Tamboerksloof neighbourhood. What makes this sanctuary-like habitat even more remarkable—given the complete absence of bright colours or lustrous textures—is that its owner, Algria Ferreira-Watling, is one of South Africa’s most in-demand make-up artists whose portfolio of clients includes Solange Knowles and Charlize Theron.
It would be fair to assume that someone in the business of “painting faces,” as Algria refers to her artistry, would have a predilection for colour as well as materials and objects underpinned by a glamorous artifice. But Algria has always had a rebellious spirit, manifesting not only in her professional signature typified by a look that is pared-down, fresh, and innately edgy, but also her instinctive rejection of trends, mass consumerism, and aspirational yearnings.
Bare walls in bone and grey hues, original wooden features that have been sanded down and left unvarnished, a limited but meaningful selection of personal effects and decorative objects displayed in thoughtful vignettes, as well as low-key luxuries in the form of candles that perfume the air with notes of amber and gently worn pure linen throws, all culminate in a whole that is effortlessly layered and emotionally affecting.
The source of Algria’s inspiration can be traced to her childhood, “I come from a poor background. We didn’t have material possessions, but there was always so much love,” she explains. “I work in an industry founded largely on traditional notions of beauty and consumption, but I’ve never desired ‘things’. My dream was only ever to live with my family in a modest house that had a feeling of tranquillity. Why would I desire a palace when what I have is perfect?”
While Algria purposely keeps the house in a state of visual consistency throughout the year, Christmas brings with it the occasion to create a seasonal atmosphere for her husband, Derek, son, Dax, and close friends and family—a mood that is festive while staying true to her serene aesthetic. No flashy store-bought trinkets or tinsel here; no pine or fir in the corner of the living room; no table centrepieces composed of roses, poinsettias, or hydrangeas.
Instead, the customary tones and accouterment are substituted by the muted greens and otherworldly forms of fynbos (indigenous shrub and heath) and woody herbs displayed as free-form wreaths, floating in repurposed clear glass bottles holding elegant taper candles, and as aromatic flourishes on gifts that have been wrapped simply in white or brown Kraft paper and finished with twine.
Traces of shimmer—this is Christmas, after all—serve to highlight rather than overwhelm and bring to mind the flash of a dragonfly wing. You can find this flash in a fine dusting of edible copper glitter on a ‘naked’ cake; in the gold craft wire binding hand-made fynbos garlands left hanging from doorknobs; in the dried Protea flowers and seed pods from the blue gum tree, spray-painted in antique gold; and in the vintage King’s Pattern cutlery, polished only slightly so as to retain the charm of its mottled patina. And instead of a tree, an agave plant with its sculptural form has been given a single coating of gold spray paint and ‘planted’ in a clear glass vase filled with beach sand.
“Things found in nature, objects that have had many lives already, the soft wrinkle in a piece of linen… this is a constant source of inspiration for me,” says Algria. “Christmas calls for luxury, but there’s no right or wrong interpretation of what that means. Faded and evocative or full-on and festive, as long as what you see makes you happy.”
1. Fill clear white wine and cordial bottles with boiled or distilled water (to stop the water from clouding too soon) and place sprigs of fybos, heather, or woody herbs inside. Use as holders for elegant taper candles on your tablescape or wherever you want atmospheric lighting.
2. Source fynbos and create whimsical free-form wreaths and garlands. Use gold and copper craft wire and black leather cord for contrast and a hint of shine.
3. Spray paint is an easy way to indulge your creativity. Coat found objects from nature such as seed pods and dried flowers in antique gold and copper for an understated glow. Fynbos, spray-painted black, is an edgy interpretation of the idea. Apply the same technique in creating the garlands using gold and copper craft wire.
4. Keep gift-wrapping simple and rustic. Crinkle brown Kraft paper and plain newsprint into tight balls and then spread out for use. You’ll be left with an organic, crushed linen look. Give each present its own unique treatment: experiment with white and brown twine and use fynbos – plain or spray painted – as well as spray-painted seed pods as embellishment. Wrap the twine casually so as to have a more informal appearance.
5. Strings of fairy lights are a Christmas essential: left in vases, in the fireplace, draped over the mantle, around door frames, or hanging from the ceiling in the corner of a room.
6. Approach a monochromatic table setting like a fashion designer focusing on layering and texture. Think: shades of chalk, grey, charcoal, and bone. Anchor the scheme with a beautiful linen tablecloth; set places with vintage silver-plated cutlery, rough-edged linen napkins tied with hemp string, and handmade crockery (black adds drama); arrange a mix-and-match assortment of upcycled glassware for sprigs of fynbos and candles. And add final flourish in the form of gold and copper spray painted seed pods.
7. Serve your guests a deconstructed ‘naked’ cake. Make two classic sponges (one large, one medium) and trim them into circular shapes. Layer only the tops of each cake with buttercream frosting (hence the term ‘naked’) and sprinkle on a fine layer of edible glitter. Embellish with springs of fynbos or woody herbs.
8. Wrap thick pillar candles of varying sizes with gold or copper craft wire for a personalised style flourish.