Johannesburg - As I wind up a morning in Kramerville, a top design district in Sandton, I’m clutching what looks like a coffee table book about Hästens beds, which retail in the Kramerville Hästens store for between R80 000 and R300 000. Yes, those are the prices … they contain layer upon layer of genuine horsehair (proved to be the softest, springiest bed material), and the cotton and wool stuffing is done by hand.
This is the problem with visiting Kramerville. It lures you into a rarefied design space, tempting you to blow a lot of money on something like a bed fit for a king... as well as a set of 400 thread count Egyptian cotton bed linen and, for good measure, a beautifully upholstered chair.
In the past three years, Kramerville has upped its game, transforming itself from a hub of fabric wholesalers selling mostly to trade to a swanky retail high street with beautifully decked out shopping spaces as well as a choice of places you can grab a bite and a cup of coffee, or even a sunset glass of wine. And the more time you spend in this rarefied design zone, the higher the chance is you’re going to abuse your credit card.
The pièce de résistance in Kramerville is the Weylandts furniture store, which opened here in 2010 due to growing demand in Gauteng for Weylandts’ focus on simple, clean-lined European designs.
With three levels showcasing contemporary furniture sourced from around the world, the store itself is a designer’s gem, where space and light flatter the merchandise, making you want to stay longer.
And you can, because there’s a bistro called The Kitchen that serves chic fusion dishes like Franschhoek trout gravlax and seared lamb caponata on artisan bread.
From there, you can stroll down Kramer Road, which offers a selection of décor shops with a strong emphasis on fabric and upholstery. The latest and greatest fabrics by local and international designers hit these Kramerville outlets first.
Also worth a visit is The Silk and Cotton Co, specialising in local and imported fabrics but also selling furniture and homeware.
“Kramerville has become busy over the past year,” confirms manager Sam Sporides. “We have a good mix of trade and retail shoppers, many of whom bring their spouses on a Saturday for a second opinion on what they’ve perhaps seen during the week. Then they end up buying not only fabric, but something else, like a lamp, a lovely chair, a mirror,” she says.
For artsy, bespoke furniture, you have to pop into Egg Designs, and for classical traditional furniture of the finest quality, there’s Gordon Fraser, on the corner of Desmond and Kramer streets. And if you’re a kitchen nut, you can’t miss SieMatic, which showcases top-end contemporary German kitchens.
“The beauty of Kramerville is that it’s a one-stop-solution for your whole house,” says Sporides.
Take a right where Kramer Road meets Desmond Street and you’ll soon see Katy’s Palace Bar, the establishment that has Kramerville fans abuzz, atop an artefacts store. This quirky space is owned by arts collector Mark Valentine, the man who spearheaded Kramerville’s transformation four years ago when he bought what is now the Weylandts showroom, transforming it from a lifeless old warehouse into what it is now with its aqueduct-style arches.
Katy’s Palace Bar came about in 2012, a year after Valentine moved his 20-year-old Amatuli Artefacts store to Kramerville, converting another old warehouse into what is now a cavernous, triple-storey space housing thousands of African and Indian furnishings and decorative items.
The actual Katy’s Palace Bar occupies the third level, with panoramic views of Sandton, and a recent addition is the Sir James van der Merwe cocktail bar on the second level. Both these bars have become red-hot wedding and private party venues. And there’s a Sunday lunch with a harvest table at Katy’s every first Sunday of the month.
“Kramerville has been transformed from an industrial area favoured by fabric wholesalers into an important and legitimate design quarter in a short time, just three years,” says Valentine.
“I think this is probably a record for any space conversion in Johannesburg, and at the moment you can’t find rental space.”
Next door to Katy’s Palace Bar is One on One Antiques, which moved from Parktown North in 2011 and which overlooks a veranda restaurant called Fabled Foods.
“We’ve done really well since moving, and Fridays are particularly busy because of Katy’s Palace,” says One on One manager Michelle Louw.
Another vibrant building in Kramerville is 03 Desmond, a triple-storey building that has 15 carefully selected design tenants and which is host to a rooftop market on the first Sunday of each month.
The space sells clothes, jewellery, ceramics, fabrics, furniture and homeware. Again, the view from there is spectacular.
“Kramerville is a good example of the way cities evolve,” says Tina White, manager of the Kramerville Management District.
“They die off in some parts, and come alive in others. I believe this area holds a lot more in store as new investors come in and renovate the buildings.”
As I leave, I’m thinking about the Hästens beds, imported from Sweden. Wouldn’t it be gratifying if Kramerville could spawn a local manufacturers’ hub to feed it, including bed crafters who use local horsehair and sell such mattresses for sums closer to those that someone like me could sleep peacefully with? - Helen Grange, The Star
*l To see a directory of shops in Kramerville, visit www.kramerville.co.za. You can also visit www.03desmond.co.za