Wanted editor-in-chief Sarah Buitendach.
Wanted editor-in-chief Sarah Buitendach.
Image: Simz Mkhwanazi

Ed's letter | This is not my beautiful house

My first big gig was as a design journalist. For this, I wrote stories about houses. As a result, I have been into a LOT of homes over the years.

By and large, people are incredibly magnanimous about opening up their domains to a camera crew and nosey writer. They give their time; they let you completely rearrange the place — no one’s house actually looks like it does on glossy pages; and they even allow you to ask them all kinds of mind-numbing questions about tiles and topiaries. They pose for photos. They cook you lunch. Mostly, they allow you free rein of their private lives. For all the world to see. It’s brave.

Over years of house-writing, I witnessed the truly bizarre and fascinating. There were the usual nightmare tales of building — pool steps left jaunty and impractical at 60 degrees, dirty loos (sis!), even a house that we arrived at to find the decorator madly filling with furniture. The wife of the fine establishment had fled overnight — leaving her husband, but taking every item in the place with her.

In people’s sanctuaries, you get a sense of the times. At one point, the first thing any homeowner wanted to show me on a tour was their Kentridge, even if it were the size of a credit card. It’s probably the same with Nelson Makamo’s work now. Today, I wager any “chic” abode has a drinks trolley on which its owners display their thousand gins and fancy tonics. In the mid-2000s, everybody was mad for chandeliers in bathrooms and kitchens, not to forget the wildly popular but horrific, riven-stone statement walls of that era.

Trends aside, I’ve always found two things most telling about houses. One is what you have in your fridge. The other is books. Some houses have loved and used libraries; some a motley collection of books they’ve displayed because they think they’ll make them look smarter. The worst, of course, are the places devoid of even a single bad James Patterson.

My real takeaway from years on the job is twofold. One, that money does not equal style. A cursory glance at Nkandla and the Guptas’ Saxonwold folly illustrates the point. The other is that people make houses cool. And happy. I once wrote about a captain of industry’s mansion in Sandton. An amazing architect had built it; the art was like something out of the Tate Modern; the garden a study in indigenous beauty. The home cinema, the walk-in fridges… It was exquisite. His wife was a delight; the kids charming. I felt disenchanted when I got back to my flat that night. And before the magazine had even gone to print, he’d filed for divorce, with delightful wife number two lined up already.

My friends say I’m judgey about interiors — but invite me around for good food, wine, and interesting conversation, and I’ll think your house is grand, whatever the style. Promise.

Sarah

JOIN THE CLUB

At Wanted our lives are an endless merry-go-round of champagne, first-class excursions, posing for selfies, and donning haute couture. #Jokes! We're not influencers and we mostly spend our time grafting, but in-between we do have our share of fun. And, as of this month, you can be part of it.

We're going to be having gatherings, events, talks and delightful moments out - all in the name of the luxe life. Expect a sterling line-up of food, wine, art, beauty, fashion, and fast cars. You'll also get to mingle with me, the team, and Business Day editor Lukanyo Mnyanda.

Look out for more information about what's on the horizon online and in our weekly newsletter.

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