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We’re in Awe of This South African Church-Turned-Family Home

Take a peek inside this cool conversion… Business couple Jessica Gamsu and David Donde spotted the huge potential of a former church located at the foot of Cape Town’s Table Mountain – and with a touch of inspiration and plenty of style, transformed it into a liveable family home…

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WHO LIVES HERE Coffee connoisseur David Donde; his partner, Jessica Gamsu, a corporate recruiter; and their baby daughter, Georgia.
THE HOUSE A deconsecrated church in Cape Town’s Green Point.
WHY WE LOVE IT It combines stunning height and light reminiscent of a cathedral with a clear sense of contemporary urban glamour.

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“Homeowners all over the world have been discovering that former barns and churches convert well into living spaces.”

What qualities would a busy business couple who adore travel look for in a home? The convenience of an inner-city loft? Proximity to work? The escapism of being by the sea? And somewhere large and flexible enough to house them as well as give them room to entertain guests? This Green Point, Cape Town, home ticks all these boxes and more, and manages to be simultaneously sophisticated and laid-back. David Donde is the connoisseur behind Cape Town’s cult Truth Coffee emporium. His partner, Jessica Gamsu, who lived in the US and London before discovering that the allure of Cape Town was irresistible, runs her own head-hunting agency. The couple met on one of her visits to South Africa just over two years ago and, with romance instantly kindled, began the search for a home together. They were about to put in an offer for a Hout Bay property, just outside Cape Town, when they made a serendipitous find: a deconsecrated church at the edge of the city, set back in a quiet road and stripped down to a large, empty shell.

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Despite its unpromising state, they saw its potential – part of the appeal was its spacious interior and abundant, yet tranquil light. And so David enthusiastically began the complex process of renovation, bringing his passion for quality and detail to the restoration, while Jessica tended to focus more on the interior scheme.

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What’s taken shape is a home that stylishly accommodates the couple plus their 18-month-old daughter, Georgia. The word “haven” runs the risk of overuse, but in this case it’s entirely appropriate. Lofty ceilings contribute to the sense of unbounded space. High clerestory windows provide light without compromising privacy, and add an ecclesiastical echo. But it’s far from a solemn place: this is a cheerful renovation, inviting and friendly.

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Where there were once rows of pews, there is now a B&B Italia sofa by Patricia Urquiola, flanked by a pair of family-heirloom armchairs. Beautiful chestnut floors are attractively strewn with rugs sourced from Moroccan holidays as well as South Africa’s own Pierre Antoine of Fibre Designs. Special touches, with sentimental as well as artistic value, are everywhere: photographic artworks by Kevin Mackintosh and atmospheric etchings by Joan Finton, a campaign chair from family friend Graham Viney, a springbok-hide chair by Haldane Martin, and a 1950s drinks trolley that belonged to Jessica’s grandparents.

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The ground floor consists of a large living area, with an all-mod-cons kitchen – complete with marble worktops lit by recessed lighting – and a scullery, Georgia’s bedroom, and a pantry that doubles as a guest room. Exposed patches of the old brickwork and the original wooden window frames have been retained: a reminder of the building’s past.

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Linking the ground floor to the mezzanine level is a dramatic, black steel staircase by Italian craftsman Iliano Tavasci. On this upper level is the master bedroom, cleverly obscured from view by the bookshelves of David’s study area; a generous dressing room, and a sensational, modern bathroom. Storage throughout is ample and almost seamless – “You can never have too much,” says Jessica. Glass walls on this level enhance the visual impact of the double volume. (From the street, there’s  absolutely no clue that the interior dimensions are so spacious.)

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Homeowners all over the world – and increasingly so in Ireland – have been discovering that former barns and churches are quiet, secluded spaces that convert very well into serene living areas. This home, thanks to David and Jessica’s imaginative approach, is a perfect, inspirational example.

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TIP 1 Providing additional floor space while sharing a common ceiling, a mezzanine level is ideally suited to a building where it is not feasible to build a complete upper storey.

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TIP 2 A staircase can work as a décor feature in its own right. Depending on the materials and design, it can enhance a space by adding a touch of drama.

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For more divine home inspiration, pick up our beautiful new March-April issue, on shelves now.

WORDS Deborah Louw  PHOTOGRAPHY Greg Cox PRODUCTION Sven Alberding/Bureaux

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