Design Travel Guide: Cape Town, South Africa

Design Travel Guide: Cape Town, South Africa

Taking the reigns as 2014’s Design Capital of The Year, Cape Town is happening. Between Design Indaba and a host of local designers, artisans, and architects, we've put together a list of a few of our favorite spots to visit in this magical city.

Honored with the title of World Design Capital 2014, this spring Cape Town, South Africa will play host to the Olympics of international aesthetics. Intended to shine a spotlight on modern design’s impact on urban spaces, economy, and local citizens, each year the WDC Design Capital® (WDC) provides an outstanding opportunity for selected cities to demonstrate just what makes them so unique. Fortunately for Cape Town, whose influences range from English colonialism and Victorian flourishes to the vibrancy of the city’s Malay communities, visitors this spring won’t be lacking for inspiration.

Bo Kaap

Known as the “Upper City”, or the Malay Quarter, this colorful series of streets has historically been home to Cape Town’s Muslim population and cape Malay culture. Here, visitors can stop by local spice markets, take a scenic walk, and generally experience one of the city’s most celebrated historic areas. Photo by Laura Feinstein.

In anticipation of the events, which kick off this February 28th, we recently visited the cosmopolitan hub to scout out the best in cutting edge design—scouring side streets and downtown centers to find the best in artisanal crafts, emerging South African artists, and eclectic hotels to visit while you enjoy the festivities.

Haas Collective

While much of the architecture and flavor of Bo Kaap has remained the same over the years, recently the area has seen the emergence of chic and design-heavy stores and coffee shops. One such place is the Haas Collective, a magnet for laptop-toting freelancers and design enthusiasts. Here, locals and tourists alike try out some of the best in organically sourced coffees, surrounded by (purchasable) art pieces.

(For more South Africa design, follow along on Instagram with Dwell editor Will Lamb, who's attending this year's Design Indaba! And peruse the Dwell archives for cutting-edge architecture and design projects here.)

The Loading Bay

Part coffee shop, part lifestyle destination, The Loading Bay is Cape Town’s premiere spot for picking up local designer goods and international creations. At this one-stop-hub you can scan through grooming products by Aesop, try on denim by Acne, and relax with fresh local coffee and one of the store’s many indie publications. Photos by Heinke Kriel & P. F. Lombard

And special thanks to tour agency Follow me 2 Africa for the travel tips.

Ellerman House

Laid back with an innate sense of intellectual sophistication, Ellerman House not only offers one of the best views of Cape Town, but also boasts some of its most refined food and dining. For art lovers, on premises is a gallery populated with modernist works from both famous regional artists and international masters. Heading to the suites, each is tastefully decorated, and bigger than most New York apartments. As an added flourish, each room is stocked with goods from local perfumer and designer Charlotte Rhys. Photo by Laura Feinstein.

Home base to South Africa’s burgeoning art scene, Cape Town offers everything from niche work/exhibit spaces on Kloof Street to higher end galleries catering to an international clientele. Here are a few of our favorite spots to see art in the city:

Worldart (pictured) Building a reputation both locally and globally, WORLDART’s intimate gallery space has become one of the premier arts institutions in Cape Town. Specializing in urban and pop painting, check out some of Africa’s emerging talent in this cheery, brightly lit spot. 54 Church Street, Cape Town

SMAC Art Gallery Showroom The Stellenbosch Modern and Contemporary (SMAC) Art Gallery’s Cape Town space is dedicated to showcasing and supporting art movements in South Africa with a heavy bent towards the modernist abstract era, the protest era, and African artists in the post-war period. Also working as a publication incubator, SMAC recently produced locally celebrated works such as Expanding the Narrative of South African Art, and Abstract South African Art from the Isolation Years: Part III. In-Fin Art Building, Cnr of Buitengracht & Buitensingel St., Cape Town, 8001

Whatiftheworld Founded in 2008 on the site of a decommissioned synagogue in the industrialized Woodstock design district, Whatiftheworld has been an important force for nurturing emerging art talent in South Africa. Contribute to the urban renewal of Cape Town by stopping by and seeing some of the best in South African art now. 1 Argyle Street (Corner of Argyle & Albert Road), Woodstock 7925

Blank Projects 113-115 Sir Lowry Rd Woodstock Cape Town 7925

Established by Linda Goodman in 1966, the Goodman Gallery is one of the largest (and most respected) names in South African art—with a past reputation for supporting artists through the censorship of apartheid. Taking a role in the seminal Art Against Apartheid exhibition of 1985, today the gallery still plays a strong roll in local culture and promoting South African art abroad.

Goodman Gallery, Cape Town

3rd Floor, Fairweather House,176 Sir Lowry Rd, Woodstock

Considered the premiere destination for cutting-edge art in Cape Town, just a decade ago the city’s former industrial area of Woodstock was in shambles. As has been the case throughout history, artists took advantage of the area’s large spaces and cheap rents to move in and set up shop. Called by many "the Williamsburg of Cape Town" this similarity isn’t a coincidence: The district owes many thanks to its original champions, Justin Rhodes of New York, and Cameron Munro, a Zimbabwean—who after meeting in NYC as students moved to Cape Town to pioneer an urban renewal transformation. As the pair told the NYTimes in 2011 "It [Woodstock] was close to the city, it had a lot of beautiful buildings, but… was still a bit gritty…Cameron and I had met in Williamsburg in Brooklyn just at the moment that neighborhood was coming up, and we could see that Woodstock was just the same. It seemed like a no-brainer."

Starting small with a niche gallery, the pair also worked on making Woodstock a major design destination.

If you get the chance to visit, below we’ve compiled a few of our favorite pit stops:

Urban Africa Studio

Hidden within the Woodstock Exchange arts complex, Belgian-born artisan Vincent Urbain has created a bespoke leather and design store. Starting locally in 2005, Urban Africa was born, creating minimalistic and timeless designs.

Woodstock exchange, ground floor

66 Albert Road - 7925 Woodstock

Bronze Age

Bronze Age is a Cape Town based art foundry that specializes in the casting of bronze sculpture. Stop by for a unique piece that’s modern with a distinctly Cape Town feel.

Woodstock Foundry 160 Albert Road Woodstock, Cape Town. +27 21 447 3914

Made in maboneng/ the maboneng precinct

Made in Maboneng was initially created as a local buying initiative in Johannesburg's Maboneng Precinct, but soon branched out to Cape Town. Part-lifestyle concept, part street wear store, pick up some world-class urban goods while you support local commerce.

The Woodstock exchange, 66 Albert road, Woodstock, Cape Town

Dear Rae Jewelry

Original and handcrafted jewelry from some of the city’s most talented designers.

Shop 3, The Woodstock Foundry, 160 Albert Road, Cape Town, South Africa.

Located a stone’s throw from the more curated shops of the Exchange, artisans (both food and fashion) set up shop each weekend for a massive smorgasbord of local flavor. At the Old Biscuit Mill, visitors can pick up everything from organic cheeses and beer, to traditional French and Dutch treats. While the food draws many, the highlights include outdoor market The Lock Stock, where cutting edge indie designers carry everything from locally sourced mohair sweaters to wooden backpacks. An informal and friendly platform for artists and designers to showcase their work, if you’re looking for off-the radar contemporary design in South Africa, this is your best bet.

In 2008 Jessica Harwood brought her minimalist draping skills to Cape Town when she established womenswear label Take Care. Offering bespoke garments in jersey, knits, and woven fabrics with fresh silhouettes, in 2011 Take Care opened a menswear label Adriaan Kuiters—growing a reputation for premium quality with a contemporary aesthetic.

Take Care Clothing

73 Kloof Street, Cape Town

With South Africa’s formal textile industry on the decline, much of the country’s production has been kept alive by the help of smaller artisans and workshops. One such torchbearer has been Dirk Cronjé—whose textile studio, Look Sharp Design, is open for drop-ins by appointment. Inside Cronjé carries a range of handmade goods, ranging from custom made costumes to colorful totes from made from traditional fabrics.

8 Beachwood Industrial Centre, Beach Road, Woodstock, Cape Town.

To make an appointment: 00-27- 82-923-3468

The best place in the city to find knick nacks and jewelry, Greenmarket Square is also one of your best bets for picking up traditional textiles. During our recent trip we were able to find everything from children’s patterned dresses from the Congo to colorful swatches from Malawi. However, if you’re going to venture don’t go wide-eyed—this will be your best place to haggle for a good deal.

Made famous by 2013‘s Academy Award winning documentary Searching For Sugarman, Mabu Vinyl is the site of Stephen "Sugar" Segerman’s epic quest to answer just what became of his beloved guitar hero Sixto Rodriguez. Since the film took award’s season by storm the quiet and eclectic vinyl store has become something of a tourist destination—but as the photo above can attest to, it’s still a relaxing place to browse and experience a piece of Cape Town unchanged by time.


Last Updated


Get the Dwell Newsletter

Be the first to see our latest home tours, design news, and more.