The cover of the first issue of Habitat – which appeared in May 1973 – an airbrush work by the renowned South African artist Norman Catherine, Electric Still Life.


In a dingy litho print shop in Doornfontein, Johannesburg, the first printed issue of Habitat appeared in May 1973. The last of which was in March / April of 2020.

For the launch of the Habitat Living platform, we’re taking a moment to not only commemorate the 47 years since the birth of Habitat print editions, but also to celebrate classic South African design from 1973 to 1998 that showcases where this now billion rand industry began in South Africa and which leading design talents were instrumental in giving it oomph.


The standstill of 2020 and the futility encountered when trying to plan anything ahead blurrs the concept of linear time. This sudden opaque vision of the future is precisely what has us looking for our identity in the past and becoming fascinated with imagining what’s to come.

Delving into the Habitat archive, we selected 18 quintessential interiors that mark styles within three decades, ranging from exclusive television channel offices, homes of the rich and creative to our world-renowned African resort; all representing South African design values. Though these spaces showcase a variety of design approaches, all give meaning to the impact of the South African design legacy and its trajectory.

This compilation from the ‘70s, ’80s and ’90s, emphasises styles that appear a little OTT maybe, but most make us wonder what made us reject them so dismissively. May a sense of honour and gratitude to what’s considered outdated be ignited.

**Please note imagery comes from scans of old printed media.**

1973 to 1975

The sitting room of an apartment in Riviera, Jhb includes Paolo Tommassi sofas in David Hicks fabric, McGuire rattan chairs and mohair drapes. Interior design by Geoffrey Bradfield, 1973.

This Constantia cottage in the Cape was the home of a local decorator and it reflects some innovative decoration for its time, such as the use of animal skin, mirrored walls and contemporary glass fibre furniture; all of which was originally designed by Eero Saarinen. Interior decoration by James Kerr, 1974.

This sitting room in Hyde Park, Jhb reflected the classical contemporary style of Studio Henry 12. Sofas were from De Sede. The coffee table is by Italian architect Sandro Petti and the pony skin loungers where originally designed in 1929 by Le Corbusier. The all white shell of walls and Italian floor tiles was very typical of this look. Interior design Selwyn Levy and Geoffrey Bradfield, 1975.

1978 to 1982

Contemporary classic touches in this Sandhurst, Jhb home include generous low-profile sofas in rough linen, lacquered coffee table and rattan / hide director chairs. Louvre shutters, light walls and floors complete the clean aesthetic appeal. Interior design by Sheila Kirschmann, 1980.

The decorator’s own home in Bryanston, Jhb reflects his Italian heritage. It includes mirror tiled walls, hand painted wall effects and definitive Oriental touches. Interior by Marco Opezzi, 1978.

This Hyde Park, Jhb townhouse typifies the style of the late 1970s and early 80s, which often included oriental elements such as wickerwork and ceramic objets d’art. Interior decoration by Ronnie Fellows and owner, 1979.

1983 to 1987

Eclectic effects in this Hyde Park, Jhb townhouse border on contradiction. They include Eastern art and artefacts, and antique brass tray table, a steel / leather chaise and Perspex / glass console. Interior decoration by Ronnie Fellows and owner, 1987.

1988 to 1992

A contemporary family home in Morningside, Sandton. Interior design by Stephen Rich, architect Adrian Maserow, 1989.

An elegant solution to bachelor lifestyle is reflected in this apartment in a circa 1900 building in Musgrave Road, Durban. Distressed wall finishes are combined with a mirror wall and white tiles to counter Durban’s humidity. Ceiling fans add a colonial touch. Interior design by Mario Rodrigues, 1988.

Home to a young, dynamic advertising agency in Rosebank, Jhb, this interior reflects the creative nature of this industry. Put together on a minimal budget, it is dramatically effective. Interior design by Future Classics and David Rabins (architect), 1989.

Grand open interior spaces result from this innovative pillared structure in Illovo, Jhb, which is a foil for eclectic interior decoration. Architect Louis Ferreira da Silva, interior decoration Rich-De Jager, 1992.

1993 to 1998

This purpose-built home in Sandton, Jhb was conceptualised by the clients. The designer described it as being ‘the most passionate affair with the structure that I have ever experienced; this was likely because almost every element was custom-made’. Interior design by Errol de Jager, 1994.

Although this Sandton townhouse interior is composed of contemporary elements, it has a timeless appeal reflected in light surfaces and fabrics, glass, mirror and low-voltage lighting. Furniture throughout was custom designed. Interior design Rich-De Jager, 1993.

Few things are as emblematic of Africa’s heartland as an elephant tusk. Here it is appointed in such a way as to not become a kitsch cliché. Dramatically innovative and passionately patriotic are words which do not adequately describe the Tusk Lounge at The Lost City in Bophuthatswana. Virtually all fabrics, furnishings and accessories were custom-designed and manufactured for this impressive scheme that makes for a perfect dedication to the country and continent. Interior design by Trisha Wilson, 1993.

Located in the Hout Bay valley, Cape, on a well forested hillside, this house was originally a row of three labourers cottages. Subsequently home to an architect in a culture of yet, it represents an imaginative and singular revamp. Architect Richard Tremeer; interior design Richard Tremeer and Jenni Button, 1995.

In this large contemporary family home in Sandton, Jhb architect and interior designer worked in close collaboration from a conceptual stage. The decorative signature is classically eclectic; fabrics include Thai silks and Italian imports. Furniture is similarly diverse, as reflected in Cassina dining chairs imported from Italy and used with the traditional wooden table. Interior design Stephen Falcke, 1995.

Set high on Emmarentia Ridge, Jhb, this family home was revamped by the architect in collaboration with his clients, who created their own decorative statement. The use of glazed ceramic tiles in strong colours is particularly interesting and is combined with sculpted ceilings which define circulation and various living areas. Architect Luis Ferreira da Silva. Interior by owners, 1997.

M-Net’s Broadcasting Centre in Johannesburg is a brilliantly conceived minimalist structure of dramatic scale and form. The interior is equally spectacular and gathers diverse shapes in an array of jewel hues. Bobo chairs by Dauphin were used here and in the reception area together with custom-made sofas. Interior design Camign Interior Décor, 1998.


An interior project is much more than just a decorating project. Each can symbolise a contribution to the development of design and to the art of beauty, practicality and comfort. These liveable expressions of space inspire subtle shifts that define eras and movements.

The conditions of shelter-in-place quarantine meant the natural impulse for unity during isolation was laced with a sentiment of yearning spread over our thoughts, actions and intentions. Experts allude that longing, especially in moments of anarchy and confusion, can be grounding.

The merging of longed for, age-old elements in a new context is refreshing and nourishing; even in design and décor. It’s been the choice of inspiring design vernaculars where celebration can become the emotional statement of a space and so can a comfortable and indulgent nostalgia.

The effect of reliving the past with future eyes might help us expand our perception and zone in on the process of being ready to remove the obsolete and welcome back what works to begin with, again.


Photography contributed by Colin Ainsworth Sharp, Paul Gordon, Joe Alblas, Ivan Muller, Craig Frasier
Image scans by Kameraz