Words by Garrett van Niekerk Styling by Alan Hayward Photography by Sarah de Pina
ABOVE A wooden door, handcrafted by ceramics Kim Sacks’ husband Cornelius Lehr, and framed within a plaster relief designed by Kim, welcomes guests to the family’s home in Parktown Ridge, Johannesburg; straddling the living and dining areas is a wood-burning French fireplace by Godin. Alongside, woven brooms by master broom makers in QwaQwa rest against the wall next to a traditional Malawian wicker bench. The West African carved chieftain’s chair to the right was constructed from a single link of wood. On the bottom shelves, to the left of a ceremonial rabbit sculpture from Zambia, are contemporary Zulu baskets. The pieces above them are mainly by ceramicist Ian Garrett, and the top level displays a collection of antique African vessels.
Kim Sacks Gallery on Jan Smuts Avenue in Johannesburg’s Rosebank has been loved by the city for almost two decades now, as much for its trove of handmade African objects as for the gallery’s iconic, sculptural architecture. And Kim’s own home, just a short distance away on Parktown ridge, translates the gallery’s best elements into a domestic environment where the objects are used daily, and lived with simply.
As a potter herself, and long-time ceramics and craft educator, Kim has always referred to the gallery as a ‘vessel’ filled with things she loves, and laughs about the fact that the space, which she designed, was once voted the ‘ugliest building in Johannesburg’. ‘When I look back over my shoulder, I’m often amazed that I had the audacity to build that mad edifice on Jan Smuts Avenue 20 years ago,’ Kim says, ‘because it is kind of mad. But I love it, and my home is very similar, so I don’t know what that says about me?’ she asks, smiling.
ABOVE To honour their space, Kim and Cornelius have a strict no-shoe policy in their home. In their lounge, they are surrounded by a collection of African objets. The Shigra basket from Ecuadorian Highlands on the far left sits atop another Nupe stool, behind which is a hanging Kuba raffia cloth from the DRC and a Lobi sculpture from Burkina Faso.
Kim shares her home with her husband Cornelius Lehr, a watchmaker, and two daughters, Maia and Tali Lehr-Sacks, and the structure features the same smoothly sculpted, curvaceous terracotta walls as the gallery. Timber window and door openings (constructed by Cornelius) have been outlined with geometric relief sculpture as seen in the gallery, and dotted among the exterior spaces are the exquisite pots and carvings Kim Sacks Gallery has become famous for, often hidden by the profusion of plants in the property’s wild, tumbling garden.
The now multilevel house was purchased shortly after the gallery was built in 1998, and has since been radically transformed from the original cold, facebrick unit into an organic, ever-evolving home inspired by the ancient building traditions of the continent. It is in part also a production space for the gallery, and a pottery restoration workshop, carpentry room, a complete bronze foundry, a clock repair space for Cornelius, an art studio for Kim’s daughters and a separate cottage in which Kim creates her own pottery – all having been added since they moved in.
The built-in couch, upholstered with handspun cotton from Burkina Faso, makes for a cosy entertaining nook. A large Uzbekistani Suzani hanging and Ethiopian food cover grace the wall, complementing two beaded necklaces also hailing from Ethiopia. Natural textures abound: a coffee table from India that sports a carved bird figurine by Winston Luthuli, twin Nupe stools from Nigeria, and one of numerous exquisite Iranian kilims that were obtained by the family on trips to Istanbul.
‘It was the ugliest house I had ever seen, in a state of total disrepair,’ Kim says of the original building. ‘There were wires hanging from the ceiling, gaping holes in the floor… it should have been condemned, really. But we just loved the unpretentious quality of the Parks, and the interesting people who live here – and I love making spaces – so we took on the challenge.’
To decorate the surfaces of the exterior walls, Kim began by attaching a piece of chalk to a feather duster and drawing on the base plaster itself, working later with a master plasterer to layer the designs up from the drawing. The earthy colour palette of terracotta and concrete grey was inspired by Mashamba, a potter’s village in Giyani, Limpopo, as well as by Kim’s years of research into the clay works of Africa.
ABOVE LEFT Nautilus origami mobiles made by the couple’s daughter Maia twist and turn with the breeze coming into the kitchen. The dining table, designed and made by Cornelius, and paired with Malawian wicker chairs, is laid with Maasai feeding vessels and calabash covers from Chad. ABOVE RIGHT Lined with a selection of plants in containers crafted by local potters, the stone staircase leads up to the bedrooms
Sunlight streams onto a staircase that connects the public and private areas of the home. Here, Zambian figurines cast shadows and framed ink drawings from Bihar, India, adorn the wall.
Inside, this home is perfectly designed for display: white walls and neutral floors form a plain backdrop for the family’s immense collection of African art. Makenge baskets from western Zambia adorn the kitchen walls and are used for storing fruit and vegetables, Fulani calabash covers from Chad become table mats, Venda textiles are repurposed as throws and carved throne stools from around the continent are taken off the metaphorical museum plinth and sat upon.
And while there aren’t many rules in the Sacks house, and no object is too precious to not be used, Kim is emphatic about one idea – no shoes are to be worn indoors. ‘Because inside is inside, and outside is outside, and this is a sacred space. I don’t want someone walking with Dr Martens on my beautiful carpets. Also, if anyone has ever woven a 5cm2 strip of anything, or crocheted, or knitted it, you would never scrunch your boot into it.’
She adds, ‘Home really is home; it is sacred. I’m very comfortable in the chair that I sit in, and I try to be respectful to the objects – but I use them, and love sharing the stories of the pieces I live with, and sharing them with my family – and that’s what I do this for.’
ABOVE In the dining room, a table from Rajasthan with its collection of brass candlesticks is framed by windows and doors handmade by Cornelius. The space is home to various wooden objects, including a bench from Indonesia, drum from Mali, kilim from Istanbul and a Nigerian sculpture in the corner. The top shelves house antique African baskets and vessels, and on the bottom shelf are bowls recently made by Kim herself.