A Rustic-Inspired Apartment Filled With Travel Finds

A chef finds peace and a special place for her treasured finds in this cozy home in the midst of a bustling street

Photography: Greg Cox/

Nothing beats the feeling of coming home—whether you've been away for a long time or you simply got back from work—there's a feeling of peace and calmness the moment you step into your space. For personal chef Paula Nel, home is in the midst of Cape Town's busy shopping and business district. Though very different from her demanding schedule of going from one country to another, going back to South Africa, in a place that she worked so hard to make her own, is something she is committed to.

“It was nice, but it really wasn’t me.” Paula made the space her own by whitewashing the brick walls, exposing the original epoxy floors, and adding vintage-looking lighting fixtures. She also added an outdoor terrace with wooden plantation-style shutters, a detail that really adds to the feeling that one is cocooned and far from the madding crowd.

The decorative details followed in time—giving her the opportunity to showcase artwork and the numerous treasures she has collected over the years. “Treasure hunting can be hard work but it’s worth it to surround yourself with these amazing items that each tell a story—theirs and your own,” she says.

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Paula’s eye for artwork has resulted in a fascinating and arresting collection for this gallery wall installation. The carved wooden figurines were found in Kenya.

Storage Detail

Paula’s aesthetic marries industrial and global style beautifully. The date palm figurines on top of vintage school-type lockers were handcarried from Benguera Island, Mozambique.

Get similar lockers from HMR, Pioneer St., Mandaluyong City.

Kitchen and Dining Areas

The cement floors are the perfect foil for the likes of a magnificent handwoven rug from Fez in Morocco. Paula’s glass-topped cabinet of curiosities makes a beguiling element in the space. The antique wooden plinth leaning against the pillar was found in India.

You can get similar industrial-style factory lamps like these locally at Wilcon Depot.


Paula replaced the glossy fitted kitchen island with her own customized wooden island. It is the site of many a festive, food-fueled get-togethers with friends. For this area, the raw bricks were left unpainted for a rustic look.

Storage Detail

Paula is also an accomplished photographer and the images taken on her many travels, like this one of elephant tusks, can be found throughout her home. The crosses are original Coptic crosses found in the marketplace in Addis Ababa, while Jorge the armadillo was discovered at Evolution in New York.

Get a similar chest of drawers from Atelier Aguila, LRI Design Plaza.

Living Area

Paula’s living area is a cozy, comfortable space. The original etching, 4 Horses Baited, is by South African artist Diane Victor. A projector screen on the adjacent wall descends from the ceiling for movie nights.

You can get similar leather armchairs locally from Pottery Barn, Estancia Mall.

Dining Area

The wooden plantation shutters help create the sense of the apartment being a quiet oasis. One of the walls opens up to reveal a terrace overlooking the city.


Paula’s bedroom is a cosy space which she has filled with worn, textured fabrics. Even the bed itself is upholstered in linen. A highly detailed pierced screen is used as the headboard.

You can get a similar screen locally from All About Home Furniture, and a similar indigo runner from L’indochine at SM Aura.


In one corner of the bedroom is the dressing area. The two paintings are by Paula’s mother, artist Wendy Malan and are of children’s dresses from the concentration camps during the Boer War.


The bathroom is kept simple and neat with an all-white palette. Wooden accessories and decor add warmth to the space.

Get similar window shutters from Wilcon Depot.

Decor Detail

Paula’s artist mother Wendy Malan painted this vegetable still life, and this tablescape perfectly reveals Paula’s penchant for organic form.

You can get a similar rustic wooden fruit bowl like this at Kultura, SM Makati.

Decor Detail

Paula’s knack for finding things and displaying them are equally fascinating. The stone vessels were found in a market in Egypt while the old ceramic cold drink bottles were dug up from an old dump in Cape Town.

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