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Soul Surface

Soul surface 1

Above: The decorative panel below the dado rail was inspired by the pressed metal detailing on a drinks cabinet and adds to the bejewelled ‘Aladdin’s Cave’ feeling of the room. For a contrasting texture, Charlie treated the red wall with a technique that resembles the fine weave of linen.

Soul Surface

An artist coats her home in colours that speak of life, love and family

Words Natalie Boruvka  Production Colin o’mara Davis  Photos Gunther Gräter

There’s a perfect little piece of hide-and-seek heaven cached away in northern Joburg’s charming country-enclave of Beaulieu. Well, not so little. At half a hectare, the garden ‘in which anything that grows well has been planted’, offers boundless prospects for suspense-filled cover, and then there’s the house itself: a rambling, double-storey thatch delight of abundant stowaway potential. It’s the kind of home that prompts one of those ‘it’s as if it happened yesterday’ memories, rekindling the joy of fervently-anticipated Saturday afternoon parties at your favourite friend’s house.


Soul surface 2

 Top left: Employing a distressed effect, Charlie breathed new life into the existing kitchen cupboards, creating a cheerful country charm. Center: The bathroom that Charlie created for her stepsons, Pier and Luca, when they were little boys, is a Treasure Island-inspired labour of love complete with pebble beach floor and shell-clad shower. Right: The Vettoris’ home is ensconced within the sprawling gardens and secreted bridle paths of the beautiful country estate of Beaulieu.


Charlie and Gianni Vettori bought it 10 years ago when they were married, after what Charlie describes as ‘an intercontinental fax romance’. For almost a decade prior, she had been making frequent trips to South Africa at the invitation of Plascon. Managing her own decorative arts company at the time, prestigious international commissions took her to far-flung palatial residences and celebrity homes the likes of Mick Jagger and Elton John. In the 1980s, at the height of the paint and plaster effect boom in South Africa, her skill and expertise was exactly what the paint giant wished to present to the  market. Little did they know that a chance encounter at a party on the eve of one of a series of return flights would see Charlie make our sunny skies her permanent ceiling?


Soul surface 3

Above: The cabinet in the playroom has been treated with a trompe l’oeil effect that references happy family memories through humorous book titles. The weathered-look laminate floors from Kronotex Flooring perfectly complement the roof beams that have been scripted with lines from the poem, Desiderata.



The Vettoris’ home is a painted chronicle of their romance and the subsequent memories made with their three children, twenty-something stepsons Pier and Luca, and 9 year-old Ella. Every room contains a surface that Charlie has imbued with sentiment and memory through paint and brushstroke. In the studio a cabinet filled seemingly with books and collected memorabilia has been treated with a second-guessing trompe l’oeil effect. It was the first item Charlie put her brush to after the birth of Ella, and the book titles – The Golden Days, Getaway, Cornwall Eclipse, The Surprise, Teenage Terror – make reference to the natural trepidation following the arrival of Ella and the Vettoris’ extensive travels preceding parenthood.


Soul surface 4

Above: The master bedroom features ornate Indian shutters and an intricately carved cabinet – a precious heirloom that was hand-carved by Charlie’s aunt with a knife!


Pier and Luca’s bathroom is another example of how Charlie’s heart finds voice in the treatment of surface. The shell-clad shower found seed one evening while dining at a local seafood restaurant. ‘I knew they’d make the perfect addition to the Treasure Island-themed bathroom the boys were intent on but, unbeknown to me, when I went to collect the large bag of shells the restaurant had been saving for me, they smelt terrible and were crawling with maggots,’ recalls Charlie grimly. ‘I had such a job cleaning them!’

Inspiration arises from a fold of sources and manifests in just as many ways. In the main bedroom the exquisite antique Indian lace that bedecks the four-poster cherry wood bed – a wedding gift from the Vettoris to one other – inspired the decorative stencilling that features on the pistachio-coloured walls. Employing a series of alternating candle wax rubs and paint glazes, the walls – revealing layers of weathered iridescence that delicately reflect the gold detailing of the precious fabric – are a perfect summation of Charlie’s approach to the medium. ‘Paint effects stretch my imagination,’ she declares, ‘but they must never shout at you.’


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Above left: Inspired by the exquisite embroidered lace draping the four-poster bed, Charlie replicated the motif on the walls and, using an alternating glaze and wax effect, created glistening layers on a wall ‘worn with age’.  Above right: The Chinese wedding bed in daughter Ella’s room was found in a Persian carpet shop in Fourways.


What is truly enchanting is how the individual artistic effects enforce a life philosophy that entrenches in the home a sense of belonging and place. ‘It’s a house full of colour, passion and family,’ says Charlie, standing below a roof truss in her studio upon which an aptly life-affirming line from the much-loved poem, Desiderata, reads in romantic script: ‘You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.’

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