From East to West

Mathew and Melissa Kieser's new home-away-from-home

Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Photography: Nick Gordon

Because Durbanites Mathew and Melissa Kieser travel so much for work they needed the stability and solidity that comes with owning a home. Tasked with the arduous challenge of trying to find a place to live in a city that they weren’t actually living in, and without the requisite German retiree’s budget, they were about to give up. 

“We spent months looking for a place but couldn’t find anything,” says Mel. “We basically wanted to bring our apartment from Durban to Cape Town, the exact same setup, and it was starting to look like that wasn’t going to happen but then this place came up and we made our move.”

Good move that, too, because standing on the balcony of their Sea Point home it feels like the apartment could be located in Durban’s Musgrave area - an art deco block on an elevation looking towards the stadium and the sea. And while they’re excited to explore their new surroundings, the couple finds it reassuring to know that they’re always able to return to base camp, which is a soothing sanctuary that’s as calm as they are. 

The flooring is a single material throughout so the home feels more expansive than it would otherwise feel with a different finish in each room, and the all-white palette creates an illusion of space. Here a smaller space doesn’t necessarily mean you need to compromise on living a big life, it’s just neater and much more intimate.

Inspired by the East’s innovative use of space the Kieser's living room has multiple functions where the dining room can be a workstation or an extension of the lounge or used for its intended purpose, to eat in. The lesson: avoid having rooms that aren’t used on a daily basis and then always opt for quality over quantity, where everything that enters the home has been considered.

Unlike the rabbits… who have been trained to use the litter box in the corner, but not to stop chewing through the cables and other dangers that the couple fear will eventually result in bunny suicides. Their scratching is interrupted by the soft sounds of Badbadnotgood.

“They’re like 20-something years old and have done an album with Ghostface, Tyler, and Earl… I can’t believe that they recently played Cape Town Jazz Fest and I missed it.”

Otherwise it’s all very Japanesey – the couple never wear shoes inside the house and are constantly burning incense. “Basically we want our apartment to smell like you’ve walked into Muji,” says Mel. 

Having relocated from Durban means that their friends and family on the east coast, as well as their connections in the Far East, are often staying for up to a month at a time, making the guest bedroom more of a necessity than a luxury. Although they’re happy with the current footprint of their home, since moving in Mat’s had his eye on two other apartments in the block (the one next door caught fire and the one underneath got flooded when he left a tap on). He now dreams of buying these so that he can turn the bookshelf in the lounge into a secret swivel door, which I’d imagine you’d open by pulling out a particular Hypbeast Magazine or maybe a twist on a Kidrobot vinyl collectible.

And why not? Yhe couple is very busy building a rag-trade empire, which includes their solo projects as well as supplying major South African retailers, a job that takes them overseas about ten times a year.

“It’s nice to travel with your husband instead of some arb person in the office,” says Mel. “When we do China or Hong Kong we’ve got a chick who translates for us. Have you seen Lost in Translation? Like when they give Bill Murray that direction for the photoshoot and the translator says, ‘just smile more’, and Bill Murray says, ‘I’m sure there was more to it than that’. That’s our entire experience.” 

It’s not as glamorous as it sounds though, and their regular factory visits takes them to smoggy industrial areas with 7am starts and meetings that can go on until midnight. 

“Dude, it’s hectic,” says Mat. “It takes a month to recover because after the meetings you’re going back to your room and carrying on with your regular work and will only get to bed at about three. Then you’re up at seven again.” 

Despite being extremely relaxed, Mat and Mel aren’t really the chilling type, and so on top of their arduous workload Mat’s brands Sol-Sol and Cornerstore have made their mark on the local street wear landscape and Mel’s about to launch her womenswear brand, Maylee. 

“I’ve been working on something for about two years and it’s finally happening,” says Mel. “High-end womenswear, 90 percent of which will be made here. Having a cmt down the road will change everything. It will be nice to be creative again. I’m looking forward to be able to design something from scratch and have my signature on it.” 

Mel actually studied clothing for a year after school, hated it, and then quit to work as a receptionist where she has worked her way up to her current role as director of the company. Mat previously worked construction for his dad, driving a 20m-high pylon rig and working nightshifts down at Point Road. 

“My dad wanted us to take over the family business and my brothers and I were, like, nah. I did a four week design course, got a job at Reebok, left that to work at Musgrave Agencies, who do Quicksilver and Volcom, but got stuck at Jeep, left that, took a pay cut, and joined Mel at her company.”

After launching Sol-Sol on Skillshare and being chosen as one of ten brands to attend a workshop with Jeff Staple in New York, Mat’s since gone on to start Cornerstore, stock Superbalist and recently collaborate with a sneaker brand from Tokyo. End of June he’ll be showing at a showroom in Paris during Paris fashion week and then in Berlin at Seek with the rest of the Cornerstore family. There’s also the agency Mat started, Friends Inc., with photographer Grant Payne, which did the My Originals Since campaign for Vans and shot Stilo for the taxis and billboards around town. At time of interview he’s busy with a three-part video series for Hypebeast. 

Busy-busy, but Mat and Mel need their downtime, too, which is why their current location is all about having a greater connection to their surroundings and enjoying what’s outside as much as what’s inside.

“Moving here I just feel that people in Cape Town know how to enjoy life,” says Mat. “We moved here for a better life and I feel that we got it.”