Casa Labia

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Address
192 Main Road, Muizenberg
Cape Town
Western Cape 
South Africa
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Phone
021-788 6062
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Website
http://www.casalabia.co.za/


Casa Labia

Things have come full circle for the Labia family. Granddaughter Antonia has brought African design into the heart of her family’s gracious old Muizenberg, Cape Town palazzo, Casa Labia, that she’s made it her mission to revive. Her grandfather, Natale Labia, the count who created these grand and glorious spaces almost a century ago, was an Italian diplomat who’d married a South African, and dedicated his life to improving ties between Italy and Africa. Mussolini’s invasion of Abyssinia put an end to his hard work. Bitterly disappointed, the count had a heart attack and died. ‘My grandfather’s dream; says Antonia, ‘was to create an Italian palace in South Africa inspired by the 18th-century palace of his ancestors on the Grand Canal in Venice. Our dream now is to create a cultural centre that celebrates the best of Italy and South Africa.’

The double-storey building represents these two worlds. Cape Town architect Fred Glennie put Italian touches, like a portico with fluted columns and a water feature in the courtyard, into his essentially colonial design, inspired by the down-to-earth Arts and Crafts movement. It’s in the elaborately ornate interiors however - including ballroom, drawing room, breakfast room and sun room -that the flamboyant spirit of Venice comes alive, all of it the work of a decorator brought from Venice to ensure authenticity, Angelo Zaniol covered the walls with elegant blue brocade and the ceilings with exquisitely carved and gilded deep wooden panels. He created a miniature Palazzo Labia, filling the rooms with delicate rococo furniture, glittering crystal chandeliers, elaborately framed mirrors and elegant marble fireplaces.

In what is now the restaurant there’s a charming ceiling fresco, while art masterpieces all over the house come from the collection of JB Robinson, the South African mining magnate whose daughter, Ida, married Natale. One of their two sons is Antonia’s father also Natale, now 85. ‘When their father died, Ida took the family to live in her father’s home, Hawthornden in Wynberg,’ explains Antonia. ‘They only went back for summer holidays, but my father remained so attached to his childhood home that he was heartbroken when it fell into disrepair after he’d given it to the National Gallery.’

Now he’s got it back, restored it and warts the public to see its treasures. They can have parties in the ballroom and dinners for 22 in the dining room, while Italian food with a South African twist is served in the cafe. Upstairs, in what were once bedrooms, the work of local artists is on sale and Ida’s boudoir now houses Africa Nova merchandise - rare and beautiful pieces from all over the continent with a special focus on Ethiopia, an evocative link with the past.

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