Bling is dead, long live the earth

Gillian McAinsh

HE says decor is dead, he eats Marmite on toast and he lives in a garage. Niël Stemmet is an unlikely interior design guru to inspire well-heeled homeowners but his popularity is growing so much he has to turn clients away.

Cape Town-based designer, collector and curator Stemmet – also a magazine columnist and cookery book author – was in Port Elizabeth last week to speak at the Homemaker’s Fair.

He introduced his first book, Sout en Peper – “a remembrance book, a novel about food, with recipes as an added bonus” – to his Moffett on Main Lifestyle Centre audience.

“Sout en Peper is about simplifying your life with food, eating in the kitchen,” he says. And the same theme of earthy goodness and a love of heritage follows through in his decor sense.

“I don’t want to decorate your home, I want to curate it. It’s a different way of doing things and for this you need to form a relationship with your client and build up the room over time.”

Which is partly why the talk was titled “decor is dead”, because Stemmet believes the trend towards conspicuous consumption and excessive bling has had its day.

“When we have integrity in design, decor is dead,” he said, citing a recent client in Cape Town’s up-market Plattekloof Gorge who specifically asked him “to take away the bling” – albeit on a R2,5-million design budget.

“People want to create their own spaces, and it is about curating, not collecting.”

He suggested paring down on possessions. “Get free from everything that you possess, we do not own but only take care of, we are custodians.”

“Give your clients something that will sustain them for their lifetime.

“The future lies in the past and it’s no longer just about fabrics or curtains, it’s about selling a lifestyle. There is no longer ‘just do it for now’.

“Design for me is about going back to the earth, go handmade and you have to be very careful who you support.”

The luxury of one beautiful custom-made item would replace mass-produced goods. In addition to a green ethos of using heirloom furniture in novel ways, he called on the decorators in the audience to “ask yourself: will it be relevant for my client in 15 years time?’

“Real furniture is made by real people and we no longer fill the crack in the wood, we show the wood. “

And he has decorated his own home – he converted a 21m² garage into living space, then re-designed the main house at De Kelders in Gans Bay into a guest-house to generate an income – using the same philosophy.

“We no longer just go out and buy, buy, buy.

“We carefully select objects with a purpose, and beauty and soul. There is no happiness in a shop.”

One item he has collected though – in great numbers – is National Geographic magazine and not only for its content but also for the jolt of bright yellow its covers bring to a room.

  • An English edition of Sout en Peper will be available in October.

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