Durban - Over the top and classy don’t often fit into the same sentence, but these are the cornerstones of Gill Kaatze’s design philosophy.
For more than 20 years she’s been creating Christmas in some of the wealthiest local homes while also being commissioned to decorate five-star hotels at this time of year.
Her own home is usually decked out for Christmas in the most elaborate trees, unusual imported decorations and crockery fit for Santa.
But this year has been a difficult one for the designer on the health front, preventing her from taking on big clients – but on the upside it’s one of the reasons she’s slowed down long enough to grant us an interview.
We meet at her gigantic Ballito store – a kind of Christmas pop-up shop on two levels, but she says it’s not nearly large enough for all she has bought.
Kaatze looks well enough, slim and trim, still with that sparkle in her eye – the kind you see in people who look like they own a magic wand or at least have some kind of secret to do what they do.
She treats us to cappuccinos served in an exquisite Christmas tea set, but sitting on the gilded Italian furniture it’s difficult to focus on what she’s saying – there’s too much to look at. There are quirky ornaments, life-size Santas, gorgeous teddy bears in ski suits, glittering gold trees and snowmen that dance.
Her store is magical and the well-heeled North Coast mommies love having the imported treasures to impress guests at Christmas.
Kaatze seems oblivious to them all – she buys what she likes and shopping is a compulsion.
“I attend the Christmas fairs in America and Germany, which are so large you can’t possibly see it all. Choice and variety are amazing. If you want a whimsical pizza tree, a golfer’s tree or a even a boozer’s tree you can have one, it’s that specialised and that beautifully made. I shop until I drop.”
While she talks I’m looking at a Santa flying a vintage plane, angels and hilarious Christmas stockings.
Where did this obsession begin? With a simple love for Christmas, she says.
“I come from a big family and we always did a tree.
“We did traditional things like put out milk and cookies for Santa. I’ve always loved Christmas and to this day it reminds me of my childhood.”
Her husband’s work in hotels got her thinking on a larger scale and so Kaatze has completed big jobs, such as Christmas at the Carousel and Sun City. She was once asked to decorate a room for basketball legend Magic Johnson on a visit here – she flew to Disneyland to do the shopping.
Kaatze undoubtedly lives large, so her version of Christmas is indulgent, abundant and beguiling. - The Mercury