Dana Mailer at home in Kenilworth

My friend Dana Mailer has a curatorial eye second to none. She recently moved from a big-house-with-big-garden set-up to a compact townhouse in Kenilworth, Cape Town – but it certainly hasn’t cramped her sense of style. Her objects of beauty are displayed stylishly, and her home is warm and inviting. Here she talks about putting down different roots, the highs and lows of down scaling and shows us around …


Dana's lounge in Kenilworth
On living life differently:
When the circumstances of my life changed last year, I moved from a big house in Constantia with a lovely big garden (which I loved!) to this three-bedroom, double-storey townhouse in Kenilworth with its snug courtyard garden. I wanted to achieve a very different energy in this new home. A healing energy. I wanted to live lightly. While there is a lot to be said about being surrounded by a huge amount of stuff, it can weigh you down and entangle you as well. So as I was down scaling, the furniture and objects I brought with me had to be meaningful. In keeping with Marie Kondo‘s theory, they had to bring me joy.

Dana's loungeOn the importance of family heirlooms: Heirlooms from my family home in Port Elizabeth, where I grew up, are peppered around the lounge. For example, the medieval knight next to the fireplace is a feature of my childhood, as is the copper basin and the oil painting on the wall, which used to hang in our double-volume wood-panelled lounge. It was a very impressive room with a minstrel gallery with a number of oils on the walls and this is one of them. There’s also an eclectic collection of things which we bought on our travels … such as the Zambian fish baskets and the mangrove carvings from Kenya. The chair on the right was a gift from my brother, Gary Searle, former managing director of fabric house St Leger & Viney before he emigrated to Canada. He also gave me the brass fire guard. The striped easy chair in the corner is where I read … all my guests love it, too. They all gravitate towards it! I love this space, although I am still learning to live in it. Some of the furnishings are over-scaled as they are from my former home and it has been a tremendous challenge making them fit in here.

Collage in Dana Mailer's lounge

Objects of beauty: I love grouping things together. Here I’ve placed a hippo wood carving bought in Zimbabwe on a Balinese tinder box. The little blue and white containers were a gift from my brother Cameron. I use this space for early-morning meditation and I unwind here at the end of a hectic working day. It is a place of gentle comfort. It is not a space where you have the hustle and bustle of a little family …

Dana in her loungeSoftly does it:  I couldn’t quite get rid of all my cushions! I’ve always loved soft furnishings. I’ve found that you can’t be too brutal with your possessions … letting go of things is a process. You have a relationship with things and if you need to let go of them, you need to do it slowly …

Table behind couch in lounge

More objects of beauty: I’ve always loved a table behind a couch and I repeated it here in this small space. This is a drop-sided table, which does help! It also provides an excuse for me to display more of my beloved objects. The tortoises were bought in Kwa-Zulu Natal, near Kosi Bay, on a family holiday where we had witnessed the Leatherback sea turtle hatchings.

Dana's objects from her travelsDown memory lane: This is a collection of things which I brought home from my travels or they’re gifts. The eggs were given to me by my mother-in-law. I had a huge collection of boxes which I reduced to a few favourites: these were bought in Venice and Bali. The grass balls were collected on a winter walk in Johannesburg when my children, Christopher and Alex, were very little. They are now 18 and 16 respectively.

Small lounge Dana's houseOn repurposing pieces of furniture: We had this cupboard designed and made as a nappy changing station when Christopher was born and  now it’s been repurposed as a dresser 18 years later! I’m glad I had that long-term perspective, having lived in Johannesburg and Cape Town. Both the big lamps (made out of Zimbabwean weave) and the pedestal candlesticks come from the Great Zambezi Trading Post.

On the giving and receiving of gifts: This picture was a gift from my ex-husband, Robin. I bought the dish for someone and then liked it so much I decided to keep it – this happens to me often!The real test of a good gift is you like it so much you don’t want to give it away.

Dresser in Dana's Kenilworth townhouse

On secret passions: My brother Gary suggested we buy this dresser – it’s travelled to four family homes! I was determined to find a good space for it when I moved into my townhouse. The lamps are the first set I ever bought – 30 years ago. They’re from St Leger & Viney. The candlesticks were a gift to Robin from my mom. And the topiaries … my secret passion is to have a florist shop one day and to make and sell topiaries, especially with local fynbos. It would make me so happy. One of the  hardest things was losing my beloved garden … now I have a very full courtyard garden.

Dana's dining room

Turning tables: This is a very beloved dining room table, handmade by Robin from Rhodesian teak with great care and attention. It’s synonymous with family meals and community and dinners with friends. Now I entertain less and cocoon more, especially in this space.
Kitchen collage

On being a collector: This clock has been with me since our first house in Chelsea Village – it was left behind by the previous owner! It is now in my kitchen, alongside some pieces of my green pottery collection. It’s something of an indulgence.
Dana Mailer's bedroom

Bedroom sanctuary: I love scatter cushions, as I said! I got one of the red velvet scatters from Gary, and then I found a shop to replicate three more. My bedroom is very peaceful – I hear birdsong when I wake up and I can even hear the sound of the train, which I love. I also have a lovely view of the Hottentots Holland Mountains, southeast of Cape Town, from my bedroom. I don’t spend a lot of time at home over the weekend – I am out and about, hiking or seeing friends and spending time with the children. So it’s a safe space in the morning and evening, when I always light a fire in the lounge if it is chilly.

Headboard in Alex's room

Alex’s room: My daughter Alex stays in this bedroom when she is home. I love the colour of the filigree headboard. All the bedrooms are upstairs: this is a double-storey townhouse with three bedrooms.

Entrance hall arrangement

Thanks so much for the tour of your stylish home, Dana! For other house tours you might like this vibrant artist’s house in Wynberg Chelsea and this gorgeous beach cottage in Simon’s Town.

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