With its long and storied history, instantly recognisable tile-clad buildings, and beautiful evening light, Lisbon has been attracting admiring visitors for centuries — many of whom end up deciding to stay a while. Among the more recent of these are South African fashion designers and property developers Christiaan Gabriel du Toit and Malcolm Kluk, who immediately found Lisbon’s attractions compelling.
“We first visited in 2015 and fell in love with the city,” explains Kluk. “One of our travel group stayed on in Lisbon then and there, and lives in the city to this day,” he adds. “And when we returned to visit her later that same year, we decided to start looking around for a property.”
With considerable experience in renovating and developing property in Cape Town, where the couple’s fashion-design business is also based, Kluk and Du Toit had a clear idea of the Lisbon districts in which they would be prepared to buy. “I was adamant that we would only look at certain areas and drove the estate agent crazy,” says Kluk. “Eventually we found this place online and when we saw the view — a spectacular, uninterrupted vista across the Tagus River — it became the irresistible choice.”
The property is located in the central but relatively under-the-radar area of Lapa. Says Kluk, “Lapa is known for being quite local, but it also seems cosmopolitan.” The building in which their top-floor apartment is situated was built by the grandfather of one of Du Toit and Kluk’s new neighbours and has a typical Lisbon feel, combining the authentic charms of a narrow footprint and tiled façade with a subtly modern sensibility. Plus, it is within walking distance of almost all of the places in which the couple enjoy spending time — restaurants, shops, museums, and public gardens.
Ready to consider selecting a professional to help them renovate the apartment, the couple “overheard architect João Gameiro talking about design and renovation in a coffee shop — and that’s how we met him”, says Kluk. On checking out Gameiro’s website, they immediately admired his dynamic, contemporary style. Other than deciding — unusually for two lifelong lovers of abundant colour and print, in fashion and interiors — that here they wanted “an earthy feel without losing the luxe”, Du Toit and Kluk’s brief to Gameiro was open and flexible. In fact, Kluk suggests, it was more like a carte blanche to interpret the space as the architect wished. Says Gameiro,
“The concept for this project aimed to connect Cape Town and Lisbon via the light and colour that derive from both places. The ‘prism house’ idea was born from a narrative that resonates and refracts the natural light into colours, with the existing features always filtered and enhanced when appropriate.” The underlying concept of a prism, with refracted light on reflective surfaces introducing natural colour into the compact spaces, originally came “from our posts of Cape Town’s beautiful ombre sunsets on social media”, says Kluk.
Chief among the “prism house” interventions is the metallic ceiling used to lighten and add a more expansive feel to the central passageway, while also functioning as a kind of reflection of the meandering Tagus. Gameiro and his practice, Studio Gameiro, also suggested the use of earthy yet sculptural stucco in the bathrooms and kitchen. “There is definitely a collaborative element to the interior design too,” says Kluk. “For example, João designed the staircase, and we added the stone plinth.”
The stairs form part of the very practical side of the renovation, during which an additional en-suite bedroom was cleverly tucked into the rafters. Complete trust became firmly established between clients and architect during the main structural renovation, which took place amid the lockdowns and travel disruptions of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Studio Gameiro was our eyes and ears on the ground in Lisbon during this time,” says Kluk. “WhatsApp was our only means of overseeing what was happening, and the process became a huge leap of faith.”
When it came to finalising the interior furnishings and selecting artworks, Du Toit and Kluk were in their creative sweet spot. They sent most of the furniture and art from South Africa — “a mix of new, repurposed, and vintage”, as Kluk puts it. “Art is so subjective and our tastes change continually, but each home has a feeling that requires a certain look,” explains Kluk of the process of selecting artworks for the apartment. “We started with a minimal feel, and we wanted abstract and sculptural pieces; we felt we needed to bring architecture to the spaces and then we wanted some colour — but continuing the iridescent theme that João had introduced, and always returning to the juxtaposition of earthiness and glamour.”
Unsurprisingly, Kluk and Du Toit now spend a considerable amount of their time in Lisbon. “We are here every chance we get, using it as our base and travelling on afterwards,” says Kluk. “We feel like we have taken the ‘work from home’ concept to a new continent.” The locals have been very friendly and welcoming, so it has also “felt easy to fit in, to make friends, to navigate”.
When in the city, the couple usually work at the apartment until about midday, then head out to a museum or art gallery or to do a bit of shopping. “We’ll stop for either lunch or dinner,” says Kluk. “A great thing about Lisbon is that the malls are open until midnight, so chores like DIY sourcing and grocery shopping can be done last thing before heading home to bed.”
Asked about their favourite part of the apartment, the couple agree that it’s “definitely the view”. The interior is designed to place the vista at the centre of attention and to showcase it, with “everything happening in the living room”, as Kluk says, and the furniture in the space carefully arranged to facilitate this point of focus. And, as the kitchen and dining areas of the apartment are mostly open plan, “we work from the dining table and cook in the kitchen — always together, with the windows wide open”. There can be few more enviable ways to organise one’s life as a creative person today.
Production Sven Alberding
• From the 2023/2024 edition of Wanted Watches, Jewellery and Luxury.