One small seed

ROOM 13 is the space that is often superstitiously overlooked by people in the hospitality industry sector. In this case, it is the unlikely place where two sisters not only get along, but where they’ve succeeded in creating a design studio that produces beautiful work. Room 13, in siblings Michelle and Nina’s own words, ‘is a special place in the mind where dreams, thoughts and fantasies blur’.

‘… with a host of impressive clients and a portfolio of work that carries their signature dream-like style, it feels like Room 13 has well and truly arrived.’

I first met the formidable women of Room 13 six months ago when we did a job together. Back then they were based in the Welgelegen Guest House in Gardens – on the verge of moving to their snazzy new Victoria Junction offices in Greenpoint. Welgelegen wasn’t just an office space for them; it was the house where they grew up, the start of their new business and the place from where they took their company name. From their humble beginnings in Welgelegen’s linen cupboard, to the thirteenth room in the Cape Town guesthouse, the Van Reenen sisters have come a long way. Now, two years on, with a host of impressive clients and a portfolio of work that carries their signature dream-like style, it feels like Room 13 has well and truly arrived.

In their self-decorated, stylish offices, the sisters sit me down to give me the Lay of the land. ‘We’ve been fortunate, the most of our work has come to us via word-of-mouth’ says Nina. Fortunate yes, but also testament to the quality of work they put out. To date their clients have included high-end brands like the erotic boutique Kink, the high-end jewelry cum coffee shop Café Maxim, the Spier Arts Season and a series of work for fashion designer Gavin Rajah. The most recent of which included Rajah’s HIV Positive project featuring Seal and a host of other local entertainers. Although they can be extremely versatile and do a lot of corporate work, their design touch has a sophisticated European feel about it. From intricate Flock wallpaper-like imagery to exotic birds and cuckoo clocks – it feels like you’ve stumbled into a Hans Christian Andersen tale.

Although the studio, both in it’s approach and in the work it produces, undoubtedly has a strong feminine touch, two guys were recently added to the team. ‘When we saw Pieter and Fred’s portfolios we knew instantly that it carried the Room 13 style’, says Nina. A good example of this is the corporate identity update one of the boys did for production company Groundglass. ‘The fact that we’re woman definitely has in influence on the work that leaves the door, but we also feel that it has worked well for us in our approach to business. The design industry is becoming increasingly competitive, and whether you’re male or female, it’s safe to say you have to have the proverbial balls to survive,’ concludes Michelle.

Room 13 is doing more than just survive. They are constantly conjuring up magical work in their own enchanted style. There’s already talk of branching out into interior design, producing their own wallpaper, textile design endeavours and working more closely with fashion brands. In the mind frame of these two sisters, anything is possible.