It was an innocuous one-liner on the bottom of an email at the tail end of the hassle-free booking process for 22 in Cape Town. ‘Please let us know what time you’ll be arriving on the day’.
‘What would happen if we didn’t?’ is the obvious response from even the most infrequent of travellers.
‘Perhaps we’d just find an empty house,’ said she. ‘Or a wild swingers party in full, er, swing…’ thought me.
Being well-behaved British types, we rang as soon as we knew our ETA. Although the time lag between the two was a mere three hours, we assumed we’d given our hosts enough time to arrange their diaries accordingly and clean up any evidence of tomfoolery, if needed.
It was only as we pulled up outside 22 and clocked the GB registration plate on the early nineties Jag outside that we realised the accent on the phone earlier had been an English one. After pressing the external buzzer we both did a quick mental tot-up and assumed the car’s owner must either be an East End wideboy looking for a fresh start or a savvy artistic type determined to make a statement in a new city.
As it turned out, we were only halfway there, sort of. For starters, the ‘owner’ was in fact ‘owners’, with Allan and Dominic there to welcome us across the hearth. It also became immediately clear that neither of them were even remotely dodgy, indeed they were as squeaky clean as they come, male-spa clean in fact.
This Mr Smith’s increasingly disturbing audio-visual fantasies of communal mid-afternoon romps littered with Cockney-tinged squeals now lay mercifully in tatters, which was probably for the best. Allan and Dominic had been living in East London before they relocated to Cape Town, however, and they certainly have plenty of creative juices flowing between them, so we weren’t too wide of the mark.
The interior design of their bijou four-bed abode was a collaborative effort with locally based designer Nicola Townsend. The result is one of quirky cohesion; each space has been given its own distinct look, yet bears the hallmarks of a well-conceived aesthetic master plan. Flashes of smoky pink and blue neon lighting create highlights of dramatic colour along the corridors and exterior walls, while each of the bedrooms has been assigned a core colour from which the soft furnishings and intricate wallpapers take their cue.
Our room, number two, was located in the attic, or rather ‘the upper level’ as Allan coyly corrected us. The house was originally only big enough for three guest bedrooms, once an admin office and the couple’s own living quarters had been factored in, so a rooftop extension created an extra hideaway at the top of the house. If it’s privacy you’re after, this is undoubtedly the room to choose as the others all lead out onto the communal hallway on the ground floor.
In their defence, the lower-level rooms all benefit from access to either a modern balcony area with splendid views out across the ‘city bowl’ (as it is known locally) or a secluded outdoors terrace, both of which have plenty of comfy seating designed for those sunny Sunday mornings that Cape Town does so well.
Staying in a guesthouse of this size is inevitably a very different experience to that of even a boutique hotel of 30 rooms, let alone a larger site such as one of the Cape’s holy trinity of ageing beauties: the Cape Grace, Table Bay and Mount Nelson hotels. The idea of Mrs Smith managing an hour’s undisturbed kippage anywhere but inside her own room at one of those bigger hotels, for example, would be unthinkable: if an over-zealous Resident Manager’s cushion-fluffing didn’t get her, another guest’s stray ringtone would surely do the job sooner or later.
And, yet, on that glorious Sunday afternoon, my sleeping beauty clocked up an impressive Z-count while curled up on a sofa by 22’s gardens. Whether Allan and Dominic had deliberately absented themselves that day or not, we cannot tell, but having the house to ourselves for a few hours was quite a treat.
Part owners, part hosts, part housemates, it’s a delicate role indeed these two have cast themselves. Emerging in matching white chinos and fuchsia polo shirts to serve breakfast each morning, they clearly do their best to inject a chirpy, upbeat feel to the guest experience, and with considerable success. By the end of the morning’s second cafetière we had heard all about the mysterious arrival of Monty, their recently adopted cat, swapped notes on all the better eateries in town, and learnt how they’d left their previous lives in recruitment and film production to pursue a new path in hospitality.
At the time, this long chat felt like the most normal thing in the world, only afterwards did we realise how the boys in pink had treated us like old friends rather than guests, clients or, worse still, customers. It can’t be easy creating such a positive impression day after day after day, but a year into their bold adventure, Allan and Dominic look like they may have found their calling.
Anonymously reviewed by Matt Morley (Home avoider)
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