Buildings, in the way I imagine them, are like people. They weather and age; take on characters and personalities. I like to think they grow as fond of us as we do of them. Buildings carry secrets, hide things, have soft chewy centers.
This building, the one I live in now, would be me I think, in a building population, a city scape of souls. My one of a kind pile of bricks probably had tattoos in it’s youth; a little graf here and there, windows that didn’t match their panes. This, unstable and wildly eccentric set of stones, most likely had unlikely aspirations, perhaps was ahead of the curve and a little rebellious.
The Refinery, a warehouse conversion in central Johannesburg is a collection of multi-story New York style loft apartments. I have neighbors with 3 story subterranean units, and 2 story sky penthouses; in between which, is my double volume, double story, black and white face brick beauty. It’s the first apartment that I have owned myself, and it represents an evolution; a coming of age.
A little like me, the space needed some work. It has solid structural features like double volume warehouse windows, and concrete floors with hardwood islands, but also one or two additions that were better served removed like the chipboard built in cupboards and the mustard tarpaulin blinds.
Having moved from New York City, back into my parent’s house after completing my Masters at Parsons School of Design, this building was my first foray into ‘you’re on your own’ adult life. I bought, reclaimed, and DIY’d every piece of furniture in it; hand stained the dining room table, the bed, the wine rack and the mirrors. Hand sanded the storage lockers, the dining benches and replastered the holes in the walls. I spent months scouring auction houses, salvage yards and online sales to match even the most intimate aspects of my sense of self, with an inanimate object that best represents it. I had amassed quite a collection of things gathering dust in my parents’ garage in the months it took the sale to go through, and I couldn’t be completely sure that everything would go together coherently, but with a hope and a prayer I kept buying.
The homes I grew up in owned by my family had always been full to the brim with things. Much like my interracial parents, the homes were a mix of juxtaposed ideas, time periods and styles. A competition of ideals in tangible things. Antiques in every corner and china on every wall. A heady mix of Georgian antiquities and ‘ethnographic artefacts’ from across the continent, came together in a majorly maximalist way in all of their spaces; my room however, was a black and white Belle Époque style space with French bed set and charcoal wall, a gross deviation from the rest of the house according to 16 year old me. 25 year old me, however, in my new home, vowed never to lean that far away from myself. I instead erred on the side of abject minimalism. My walls are bare, shelves all but empty, and for the first time in my life, it just feels just right.
Buildings, much like people, need space to breathe. I, in particular, require more than my fair share of oxygen, and based on the height of my ceilings and the way the light radiates off my newly painted white walls, it seems my apartment does too. A blank canvas with very little built in, the space has become a puzzle piece, a Jenga tower to build and rebuild and rearrange at a whim, and that suits me just fine. I no longer take my anxiety out on my fingernails, instead when 3am hits and I get itchy, I have a wonderland of furniture to move around, repaint or stain. My home, this house, is a therapy, a cure.