A life of art and the city

Thomas HouseThomas HouseThomas House

Five years ago, a couple found a treasure in old Johannesburg, with the convenience of being close to the city they loved, while nestled in the slow, quiet, tranquility of suburbia  All they had to do is make it their own. MR SIPHIWE MPYE paid a visit. 

After living in the concrete sprawl of the Northern Suburbs of Johannesburg for most of their working lives, Mr Ciko and Ms. Kholisa Thomas – both originally from Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape – were compelled, five years ago, to move closer to their cultural obsessions. “We have always loved the city,” says Ms. Thomas, an Art Dealer, “we both love Art and Ciko is into his Jazz.” In the city of gold, the predominant cultural spaces serving these tastes are in and around the city. Leafy, quiet and typically old Johannesburg, Park town West – where the couple now live – is a five-minute drive from the complex, gentrified ambiguity of Braamfontein – home to not only notorious (or glorious, provided you are on the right side of 30) student haunts, designer fast food joints and cafes frequented by those previously known as hipsters – but also at least three galleries, a premier Jazz venue, a record shop and two theatres.
Just a short hop across the Mandela Bridge into Newtown and the Market Theatre, Museum Africa, the endangered Niki’s Oasis and the enduring Bassline are at your disposal. Stage productions, world-class exhibitions and live music, right on their doorstep. For culture hounds, it doesn’t get better.
So, seduced by the nearby city and the impeccably maintained, Heritage Society listed Art Deco home’s exquisite original features – from the parquet floors and chandeliers, to the generous grounds and quaint art decor tiles in the bathrooms – they submitted an offer. The previous owners  were a filmmaker and musician, and on the day the Thomases viewed the house, the musician was tinkering gently on the piano. When they put in their offer, it included the Hoffman & Kuhne Baby Grand piano, which their son Hlumi now plays.
In dreaming up the interior design, they consulted with decorator Ms. Kim Lowenstein , who shared their vision of a relaxed, pared back, but grown up space. Numerous pieces are from La Grange, with a contemporary African, tonal feel, with lots of natural materials. Yellow is an anchor colour throughout the house, present in some of the art, accessories and most prominently in the custom-made, wildlife-inspired fabric on chairs in the second (or fireplace) lounge by Design Team.


“Seduced by the nearby city and the impeccably maintained, Heritage Society listed Art Deco home’s exquisite original features – from the parquet floors and chandeliers, to the generous grounds and quaint art decor tiles in the bathrooms – they submitted an offer.”


Collecting seriously for the last five years, their carefully curated art – think Sam Nhlengethwa, Lionel Smit, Senzo Shabangu, Zwelethu Mthethwa and Peter Clarke – adorns most walls, while a sizeable portion of the collection sits in Mr Thomas’s study awaiting its turn. They are not investment collectors, theirs is an emotional obsession with works that evoke emotion, an ethos that permeates Ms. Thomas’s art business, where she works with up and coming artists in whom she has implicit faith.
In the welcoming lounge, near the main entrance hangs a painting of the house Mr Thomas grew up in, a work by artist Mr Ben Coutouvidis, an old school mate of his. The contrast of the painting’s subject matter – a humble home in an under serviced township – and its site in hard-earned suburbia must stand as a reminder of the possibilities in one lifetime. “It was a stark capture and portrayal of the geographic space I was born in,” says Mr Thomas, a senior banking executive and entrepreneur, “and a reminder of my early youth and the physical space that shaped my early self.”
His professional success, experiences and travels have continued to shape his tastes, and music has been a consistent part of this narrative. His love for jazz, especially, is clear in the vinyl records scattered all over the house. Though a work-in-progress, his enviable man cave (or The Dealing Room, as it’s been dubbed, a nod to Mr Thomas’s days as the co-owner of the country’s first black-owned BMW dealership), with Jazz and vintage Drum posters, sport regalia (a man of tradition, Mr Thomas is an Orlando Pirates and Liverpool fan) is where he watches sport and entertains friends. It is also where he mostly indulges in wax, from Jose James and Chucho Valdez to Miles Davis and Donald Byrd. It is also where his wife hopes he will  create suitable storage for the excess vinyl.
Creative Director: Mr Siphiwe Mpye
Photography and Art Direction: Mr Siyabonga Mkhasibe
Additional Styling: Ms. Kholisa Thomas
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