Perceiving Space in the Experiment of House Kane Hart
This richly detailed 1930s Cape Town apartment of artist Rodan Kane Hart and interior curator Maybe Corpaci is an ongoing experiment in design, art, and life.
As a sculptor and an interior curator, it was inevitable that Rodan Kane Hart and Maybe Corpaci would treat their home as something of an experimental space. It is a constantly evolving creative outlet for their ideas and collections of art and design as much as a home, studio, and refuge.
It’s on the sixth floor – the very top – of a 1930s building in Cape Town’s CBD, originally built for a shipping company. Its polished granite plinth, ornate turret, and richly decorated cornice speak of an era of opulence and prosperity. The black-and-white marble entrance hall leads to a teak-paneled shipping room and boardrooms with plaster ceilings. Arched doorways and parquet floors characterise Rodan and Maybe’s apartment. They were attracted as much by the grandeur of the spaces and volumes, which would allow Rodan enough space to have his studio at home, as by the period detailing.
Before moving here, he had always relied on industrial buildings to provide the space he needed to work as a sculptor, creating the architectural steel forms he’s known for. Rodan began collecting furniture when he was in his twenties. ‘I’d sell a few artworks and buy furniture,’ he says.
His gradually expanding collection of largely mid-century pieces worked well in the kind of warehouse lofts he’d occupied before moving here, but now they have found fresh expression in this rather different kind of commercial space. Maybe adds, however, that the apartment left them with ‘a lot of space to [fill]’ when they moved in.‘ Then we started collecting together in seriousness,’ says Rodan.
Maybe points out that, perhaps as a result of the fact that they found themselves searching for particular pieces and designs – and the collection accumulated over time – their apartment grew around the furniture rather than from an interior design concept or preconceived idea. Their creative energies have been devoted to figuring out how to combine and recombine individual pieces, rather than adhering to a ‘top-down’ approach, as Rodan puts it.
‘It starts with one piece and then we create a narrative around it,’ says Maybe. ‘It happens quite organically. There’s nothing that’s premeditated about it, or specific to a layout that we stick to.’ Pieces were never bought to match, but rather for their own merit and interest. Inevitably, they’ve been drawn to pieces that resonate with others they already have, but that’s about as strategic as their approach ever got. And not everything is collectible. ‘We love a bargain,’ says Maybe. They picked up the dining table for next to nothing on auction and had it ebonised to give it a new least of life. ‘It just worked in the space and we’ve grown around it,’ says Rodan. As the son of an architect, he grew up with a sensitivity to ‘spatial dynamics’, as he puts it. His sculptural works are often described as architectural, frequently interpreted as experiments in how forms affect our perception of space.
In fact, the root of his interest in collecting furniture stems from his notion of furniture as functional art– a practical manifestation of what he explores through sculpture. He’s fascinated by figures such as the mid-century designer and sculptor (and musician) Harry Bertoia, who straddled multiple disciplines. Rodan adds thathe can’t help feeling we’ve become overspecialised, too constrained in our designated disciplines.
In many ways, Maybe and Rodan’s apartment is a riposte to the limits of overspecialisation; it’s an invitation to combine and cross disciplines. Rodan suggests that, whereas art often seems purely emotional, furniture design, perhaps because it is practical, retains a narrative quality that he loves – a kind of patina of use. ‘I think architecture and design are fields that are imbued with history and experience,’ he says.
Although Maybe says they’ve never disagreed about a furniture piece (pointing out that they certainly don’t agree on everything), the apartment is very much a meeting of two individual styles. Maybe’s influence comes through in something a little softer and in the whites, creams, and beiges in the living room, for example, while she describes Rodan’s preferences as ‘angular… black and chrome’.
Having his studio at home, now, Rodan says that he can easily test his sculptures in a domestic environment whenever he wants. ‘I can [bring in] some of my pieces to see how they work in a living space,’ he says. It’s a habit that led to their current venture, an alternative take on a gallery called THEFOURTH on (you guessed it) the fourth floor.
One year, instead of participating in the Cape Town Art Fair as an exhibitor, Rodan thought that he and Maybe should combine their talents and do something a little different. ‘I thought, let’s look at doing a fringe event,’ says Rodan, ‘and we came up with this concept called Apartment.’
Essentially, it involved temporarily turning their apartment into a gallery and opening it to members of the public. The idea was based on the premise that, rather than the white cube of the gallery, in reality we tend to experience art in ‘domestic’ and ‘intimate spaces’ – people’s homes, in other words.
Following that notion, they launched THEFOURTH, which is an exhibition space set up like a domestic interior with artworks, furniture designs, and a private bar. ‘It’s a similar concept to Apartment,’ says Maybe, ‘just in a more commercial fashion.’ She gets to experiment with interiors in a somewhat more abstract way than she can with clients or in her own home, while artworks by Rodan and a number of his contemporaries is experienced in something more like a domestic environment, with a sense of how they might belong in the individual, lived narrative of a life.
Upstairs, while Rodan and Maybe’s home might be a kind of personal creative laboratory, it’s also a testament to how life takes its own unexpected turns and how the ‘narrative’ of life has a way of leading us. Living spaces, as much as life, are humanised by acknowledging this aspect of history. It is one of the ways they become humanised, integrated with a new story while acknowledging that patina of history that fascinates Rodan. He likens the process to something he encountered collecting vinyl records, an interest he’s indulged in for longer even than he has been collecting furniture. They have an entire room of the apartment devoted to his collection of largely punk albums. He says that collecting isn’t so much about the objects one pursues as it is about the discoveries one makes along the journey. He thinks of all the other music he’s discovered in pursuit of one particular record or another: the richness the journey brings.
And that’s why, for him and Maybe, it’s so important that there’s no end in mind. ‘It’s never finished,’ she says of their apartment. ‘It’s a playground: an experimental place where there are no mistakes.’ Rather than proving a theory, however, this experiment is about ongoing inspiration, new interests, and ultimately adding another layer of history.