Grand Designs


Andrew Mackenzie loves to weave contemporary Africa, eclectic France and colonial chic into his interiors. Jane Slade interviews the South African designer with drama at his fingertips.

Africa. The very word evokes a sense of mystery and drama. It is in the south of this great continent where award-winning interior designer Andrew Mackenzie is making his mark winning clients at home, and abroad, with his ability to transform the mediocre and the banal into visually stunning spaces, luxurious and elegant, but always functional.

A man with an intuitive sense of drama, Andrew spent some time working in theatre. ‘’Drama led rather naturally into the world of interiors,’’ he says from his interiors emporium, Andrew Mackenzie Interiors, in Johannesburg.

‘’The early years of my career were spent in the theatre, trending the boards and sinking into orchestra pits, where I played furiously as a trumpeter before moving on to study opera. The study of the theatrical arts and music gave me a profound understanding of period, style, structure, lighting and the art of generating dramatic affect.’’

One of Andrew’s more memorable projects was working on a luxury game lodge surrounded by sweeping vistas of Africa’s ancient savannah and the movement of antelope through the grassland.

‘’I disrupted the superbly unadorned landscape with notes of elegance and humour, like a Victoria ball-and-claw bathtub on an outdoor terrace. Africa’s magnificence and mystery should dominate the space, while allowing an experience of comfort and style.’’

Andrew’s creations are a diverse as his clientele; he is equally at home in contemporary Africa, in eclectic France or in the metaphor of colonial Britain. ‘’South Africa is a complex space that has to be navigated with great care sensitivity,’’ he cautions.

‘’Styles vary from embracing received notions of power through specifically English or western traditional forms, to forging a transformed and inclusive aesthetic.

‘’In many ways, I am a style and beauty ghost writer giving a visual grammar to the intentions and desire of the client.’’

In the 1990s accompanying the dawn of democratic ear in South Africa, people began to look at interiors with fresh eyes. They favoured as aesthetic that spoke of wealth in glided terms, but were radical in their adoption of modernist aesthetics not unlike that which has been observed in the Middle East.

‘’Gone was the ranch-style home of the northern suburbs of Johannesburg and in came a more strident and architecturally complex minimalist look,’’ Andrew explains.

However, in the last five years there has been a rival of inherited notions of class and old money and a fascination with American middle class icons, Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren. Throw into the mix a tradition of handmade crafts and textiles which speak specifically of a sense of the African idiom, and you have a rich source of textures, fabrics, furniture and artwork.

‘’We are seeing a return to local crafting traditions which shows fresh confidence in objects that reflect personal notions of place and self,’’ Andrew adds.’’ Think Ralph Lauren meets the British/Nigerian artish Yinka Shonibare in the light of a Johannesbury Sunset.’’

Andrew’s bespoke and individual designs are influenced by his experience of foreign travel, and by his passion for history and the arts. But, he says, the most important element is always the client.

“I treat the psychology of the client in a manner not unlike the psychology of the collector or indeed of the artist,” he explains. “My clients, wherever they come from, are always profoundly involved in the creative process, as I am, making visible what is internal to them.

“The key to executing a successful brief is to go beyond the given boundaries and create something that enhances the personality of the client.”

A self-confessed romantic and WASP, Andrew believes that a wonderful interior must resonate and endure.

“I want to create timeless rooms that will last, rooms where every piece means something.”

So instead of flashy designer brands and high-tech gadgets expect a chiming clock on the mantelpiece, a cashmere throw on the bed, pearls on the dressing table and the nostalgic scent of Bay Rum.

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