Dean Louw and Rafael Borrego are partners in life as well as business, which means spending a certain amount of time together. “It was 24 hours a day, which took a bit of adjusting to,” Dean says, in the living room of the flat the couple share in Stockwell, south London. He’s sitting on a Saba dining chair, at a large round table he and Raf made themselves, using legs from Pretty Pegs and a piece of glass-topped stained oak. “You have to respect each other, and learn not to tread on each other’s toes.”
They now have a son, which means that one of them has to stay home while the other goes to the gym. The 24 hours have been brought down to a more manageable 23.
The business, on the other hand, keeps moving forward. For the past 10 years the couple have acted as a kind of one-stop shop for residential property. They’ve bought houses to fix up and sell on, developed larger multi-unit sites, and advised on interiors for clients. Dean, originally from South Africa, who trained and worked as a chartered accountant for many years, provides the numerical rigour. Raf, an architect who was born in the Canary Isles, brings the creativity. Raf says Dean keeps his feet on the ground, while Dean says that without his input, Raf would blow the budget every time.
From the outside, their flat, which occupies the ground and basement floors at No 9, looks exactly the same as No 3. Both frontages are noticeably smarter than the others on the road, with teal paint and black tracery. It’s not an accident: having renovated their own home (they let out two flats upstairs), the developers saw the house for sale down the road and bought it, decorating the exterior in the same style.
For their new project, however, they have taken their design nous and made it available to the general public. RB12, which opened in February in Shoreditch Village – a former timber yard that has been converted into a shopping and dining area – is a showroom spread over two floors and featuring designs for every room in the home. The idea is to lay things out in a relaxed, informal manner.
“We’re trying to do more of a homey showroom than a furniture shop,” says Raf. “Things don’t look too different there from how they are here.”
And a tour of their living room, the pride and joy of the flat, reveals that many of the items are from brands on display in the showroom, such as floor lamps by Czech firm Brokis and a rug by Armadillo & Co. At the end of the room sits a Quilt sofa by Saba, which looks like it would be an easy place in which to lose a quiet afternoon. “Often beautiful sofas aren’t comfortable, but Saba really focuses on comfort, too,” Dean says.
For several brands RB12 is the exclusive UK distributor, in some cases the result of relationships forged during the dark years of the recession, when designers couldn’t afford to be as fussy about who they sold to.
“We started doing up properties shortly after the crash in 2008, so many of the suppliers who wouldn’t normally work with individuals were prepared to sell to us,” says Dean. The kitchen, for example, comes from Minacciolo, a family-run Italian business specialising in eco-friendly, industrially inspired designs.
Not that they are above more quotidian designers. There’s an Ikea storage unit in the kitchen and a vase from Habitat sits in the living room underneath sculptures by Javier S Medina, a Spanish artisan whose work took off recently when Sarah Jessica Parker bought a piece. The large bright yellow sofa, which dominates one side of the living room, is from the Conran Shop.
“We like to mix it up, with cheaper items alongside the more expensive ones,” Dean explains. Their large master bathroom downstairs is a case in point. “The tiles are really quite cheap, which lets us have the concrete finish on the walls, which is more expensive.
“I think people sometimes struggle with how to visualise a space, or see how things will work together,” he adds. “For example, a lot of people would never put pink and orange together, and play it safe with a magnolia or off-white instead. But if you find the right tones they can go together very well. You can give a room a lot of character by choosing colours with confidence.”
Source : https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/apr/08/smart-ideas-times-two-a-home-that-marries-old-and-new