Earth Beings: Emma

Artists have always said that a portrait of a beautiful woman is the most difficult to paint, I feel the same way about introducing Emma for Mixarella’s Earth Beings®. Emma and I have been friends for almost as long as we have been living on this Earth. Also, she is distractingly beautiful.


Emma grew up in a rambling farmhouse consisting of thatch rondavels all joining up to the main house called Thatchings. The gloriously lush garden and generous patio — complete with hanging rattan chairs, sleeping dogs and skittish chickens — made you forget that you were 15 minutes from the cacophonic and swirling dervish that is the Johannesburg CBD. The house was always filled with marvelous original artwork. A dazzling array of fabrics in exotic colours formed a backdrop to an eclectic collection of sculptures, antiques, books and bric-a-brac. For example, an art deco lamp lit up a carved Moroccan tray table of Africana artifacts. Larger-than-life characters, history makers and trailblazers were always welcomed to tread the large, loud, old-wood floorboards, with some showing no compunction to leave.


For those growing up at Thatchings, Friday nights skies were often filled with the red-wine fueled impassioned debating of resistant fighters, enraged artists, hopeful expats, weary nationalists, acerbic writers and idealistic industrialists. I have a strong memory of the fragrant basmati rice and chicken curry, heaped with bright coriander leaves, in beautiful blue-and-white china platters placed along the expansive dark wood dining room table that was strewn with candles and fresh flowers.


Emma’s striking feline features, catlike reflexes, business acumen and mesmerizing storytelling ability are bequeathed from her incomparable father, John. From her mother, El, she gets her heart, compassion, fierceness and wonderful creative verve. Her tenacity she inherits from both.

Emma, along with Pippa and myself have maintained a triumvirate of friendship that has withstood all tests life has thrown us. Along the way, we unwittingly developed a somewhat annoying tradition of surprising each other. It is still undecided who gets the most glee out of the whole surprise scenario, but after many years of Emma being the reigning (and smug) Queen of Surprises, Pippa masterminded a very successful one recently, which brought the three of us (each living in NYC, Cape Town and London) together at Emma’s lovely and inspiring London home, which she shares with her partner, Cameron, who is a knock-your-socks-off (or further clothing) handsome American with leading-man good looks and a gentle, almost blushing demeanour.

This isn’t the surprise we gave her (pictured right), this is from another one, given three days later at her 40th birthday party, after which she begged for a ceasefire

Photographs by Pippa Hetherington

Photographs by Pippa Hetherington

You might have noticed that we put the dining room table against the wall for the birthday party. That is an Emma-Pippa-Mixarella custom, as it creates more room for dancing. Emma notes, “Might be a good illustration about our general party style/get-togethers to say that what was intended to be a genteel afternoon tea party, for about 40-plus friends, with twee teacups and cupcakes everywhere, quickly became something else entirely. To the point – the next day I found 50 empty bottles of wine and one dirty tea cup …”

Photographs by Pippa Hetherington.

Photographs by Pippa Hetherington.

Now, let’s go back and take a look
at Emma’s place.

Emma’s living room shows the fantastic influence of her childhood home, Thatchings. I love the mash-up of styles, decades and textures, which draws from many global influences, including those from the bottom tip of Africa right through the top into India, with a splash of Italy, France, Scandinavia and many stops in between. Says Emma, “The rug is from travels in Morocco – a seaside village called Essaouira. Almost the only good thing about the holiday, but that’s a long, tedious story.”


The wonderful accent of the paw-paw (papaya) coloured chair was an Ikea find, but one would never know it. As Emma explains the leather mid-century armchair on the left, “Is an eBay purchase. It was a five hour round trip to pick it up … in London. Absolutely forgot how vast this city is, missed an important work dinner and calculated that it would have been quicker to pick it up from Brighton. But it is incredibly comfortable and will make a slouch out of anyone.”


Emma appreciates the power of mirrors and lighting when decorating a space and scours eBay and salvage shops for finds such as this black glass chandelier and fantastic mirror over the fireplace, which anchors the room. Emma explains some of the pieces, “The bric-a-brac are assorted: beaded sheep from SA from family for my 40th; the goose inherited by my great aunt; all art is Greg Kerr (as you love.)”


All the chandeliers Emma has installed were found on the internet. Emma furthers: “The sweet guy who delivered them walked into the house, put his boxes down, looked up the stairwell and said “This house is haunted, isn’t it.”  As it turned out he was right.”

When you exit the living and dining rooms, a terrific collection of art, prints and posters lead you up the spooky stairs — with ample mirrors and shiny objects to keep the light reflecting within.


Some years back, Emma was dealt an unwelcome blow (as chronicled in her website, Life on Ice) so her talented younger sister, Lulu, made Emma this exquisite artwork dedicated to her courage, strength and spirit.


As Emma describes her gallery, “Everything has some meaning. Either my mother’s etchings, LuLu’s magical ‘courage’ creation made for me when I was up against it, (William) Kentridge exhibit from adventures in NY, Russian Madonna from antiques market for Cameron’s heritage, BOS poster is Grant Rushmere’s genius business … many are gifts.” (Ed: click on the last link, you’ll thank me.)


On the upper level is the main bedroom, which Emma shares with her partner, Cameron who I mentioned, is a US football-star-turned-money man who whittled his 6’4” frame from beefcake to sinewy yoga form (note the winter collection of exercise shoes under the bench) and shed the pounding competitive mindset for a more receptive esoteric outlook.

And one of the many reasons that we love this California kid is that he always makes full use of the dance area we clear with our customary moving of the dining room table (as seen in action, above in the tea party photos, the dark blur with white Converse sneakers.)


The facing wall serves as a dreamy gallery of their childhood memories and family, with whom they remain very close.


Shakespeare said that every story needs comic relief, and I feel this way about décor, too. Emma and Cameron’s bathroom is a riot of grey and black marble. One cannot pass its door frame mirthless or at least mimicking an Arabian Sheik in his domain …

As Emma accepts it, “The bathroom story is that as a rented house we had to live with the scary black and grey marble–effect Arabian Nights fantasia scenario. So instead of trying to tone it down with white I decided to dial it up with high gloss black everything – cabinets, blinds and baskets. Its a ridiculous, big room with two giant his/hers basins but then a shower like a telephone box, so narrow that if you drop the soap you have to turn off the shower, open the door and step out to retrieve it. Embracing the look made me love it all though. We call the room ‘Saudi’. The dove print above the door is a Picasso I love.”


The bottom level of this home contains the kitchen and the den, the latter of which is dominated by one of her first fine art investments, and one of my favourites of Emma’s art collection, by (the above mentioned, and my adored dean of Fine Arts) Greg Kerr. Emma pointed out the dark purple bench, “is custom made to order from a fellow up North (UK), Beaumont Furniture, who churns these out all day. Everyone should have one of these. All in velvet, as are most things in the house – curtains, loves seat, benches, footstools, outsize cushions etc. Velvet works in the cold and dark – its warm, affectionate and it glows – reflects the tiny bit of light we get.” A description like this works perfectly for me, and I love the purple. Emma adds, “The bench at the bottom of the bed in the master bedroom was made by him. The one pictured here has cushions from the fabulous Shine-Shine fabrics.


The kitchen frustrates Emma and it is a work in progress, but I love the wire sculpture she has above the stove. A common South African roadside-merchant acquisition in an uncommon place.


However, she puts the kitchen into good functional usage as she continues El’s lavish and embracing entertaining flair.


Emma, who went from marketing Schweppes in South Africa, then in London, to co-ownership of a firm that headhunted financial “masters of the universe” (nod to Tom Wolfe) until she could no longer ignore the voice within her that cried for a more creative vocation. In short, if we let her, Emma will save the world. Recently, she entrusted me with designing the company logo of her newly-formed entrepreneurial venture fighting for human rights, Ocula Access.

Photograph by Pippa Hetherington

Photograph by Pippa Hetherington

Emma has always been a tremendous inspiration to me as both a champion of my art and a source of strength. Together, our Emma-Pippa-Mixarella triumvirate has weathered some stunning losses and spectacular triumphs. Always there to grasp each other should one of us veer off course, it is a great comfort to know that we will walk through the changing seasons carrying the warm, sun-soaked glory days of our friendship.



6 thoughts on “Earth Beings: Emma

  1. Her place looks so nice and immaculate that I hope you never to a entry on my puke-coloured carpets and fake wood walls.
    Awesome entry.

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