#Gauteng52, Week 13: Art and Design at Ellis House

by | Mar 26, 2017 | #Gauteng52, Arts and Culture, Food and Drink, Johannesburg, Johannesburg City Centre | 8 comments

Welcome to Week 13 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I will visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit Ellis House, a collection of art and design studios in New Doornfontein.

Marie-Lais and I pulled into the ground-floor parking lot at 23 Voorhout Street and wandered aimlessly, trying to figure out how to get into the building. “Go there,” the security guard said, pointing around a corner. The guard followed us around the corner and gestured toward a tiny door leading to a hidden staircase. I’m not sure we ever would have found it.

We climbed a couple of flights, walked up and down empty hallways, struggled to find another human. After a few false starts, we caught the elevator to the fifth floor and discovered a hidden artistic wonderland.

Inside ArtEye in Ellis houseThe Art Eye Gallery and Studio on the fifth floor of Ellis House.

New Doornfontein, an industrial section of downtown Joburg bordering Ellis Park and Troyeville, has become a new artistic frontier, with Ellis House leading the way. I’d been hearing about this building for a while but I wasn’t prepared for the beautiful coolness I found inside.

View from Ellis HouseLooking over New Doornfontein from a fifth-floor window of Ellis House.

The Art Eye of Ellis House

On one side of Ellis House’s fifth floor is Art Eye Gallery and Studio, described on its website as “a collaborative space that perpetuates this idea of free expression and community.” Joburg has a lot of art galleries but there’s something different about this one. The art and decor is over-the-top colorful; it’s diverse and yet it all goes together. The gallery conveys a whimsical, Alice-in-Wonderland-like vibe, without seeming unserious. Visitors can watch artists creating art in real time.

Juanita Frier painting at Ellis HouseArtist Juanita Frier paints in the Art Eye’s open studio.

Nonhlanhla Mahlangu in Art Eye galleryNonhlanhla Mahlangu, the gallery manager at Art Eye, whose outfit matched the gallery on the day we visited. Nonhlanhla was a particularly welcoming and knowledgeable host.

Art in Art Eye galleryI believe the sculpture is by Grace da Costa.

Art Eye is a high-end gallery featuring art from both well-established and up-and-coming South African artists. (Art Eye also has a great artists’ residency program.) I have no doubt that some very rich art collectors buy there. And yet the place is unpretentious and fun to visit. It’s not necessary to make an appointment (although I’m sure it can’t hurt); just show up Monday to Saturday between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.

A piece of Ellis House

The other side of the Ellis House fifth floor is occupied by piece, which like Art Eye is hard to explain in a few words. Founded by Eugenia Drakes, piece sources, curates, and sells high-end southern African crafts from its Johannesburg showroom. Eugenia travels all over South Africa and southern Africa, finding talented artisans and bringing their products to national and global buyers.

Inside piece at Ellis HouseInside piece’s new Ellis House showroom.

Eugenia is a legend in the African craft industry, and until now she had her showroom in Rosebank. Kudos to her for moving downtown and challenging her customers to do the same.

Decor in pieceBeautiful things at piece.

Eugenia in pieceEugenia. piece is an event space as well as a gallery/showroom.

Beauty Maswanganyi at pieceBeauty Maswanganyi, one of South Africa’s top bead artisans and also the manager at piece.

There are studios and galleries on other floors of Ellis House, including the Dead Bunny Society, although we didn’t have much time to explore the rest of the building.

A Secret Italian Lunch

I can’t end this post without mentioning another magical secret place in New Doornfontein: Treviso Italian Café. Like the galleries inside Ellis House, Treviso is tricky to find if you don’t know where to look. It’s in Morkel House, which is just across the street from Ellis House, but there is no sign for Treviso on the building (at least not when I went there a couple of weeks ago). We rang the buzzer at the main entrance, said we wanted to come in for lunch, and then wandered the building until we found Treviso.

Treviso Cafe in Morkel HouseYou can see Treviso from the window at piece: It’s the balcony with the Italian flag.

Inside TrevisoInside Treviso.

I love secret restaurants like this, and I love this particular secret restaurant even more because: 1) the food is delicious and cheap; and 2) the view of the Joburg skyline is amazing. Unfortunately it’s only open for breakfast and lunch, Monday through Friday, and breakfast only on Saturday. But if you’re anywhere near New Doornfontein during these times, stop in to Treviso for some Italian pasta or pizza (or anything else on the menu because I think it’s all good). You can thank me later.

Pasta at TrevisoTreviso’s arrabbiata funghi. It was fantastic.

Ellis House is at 23 Voorhout Street. Art Eye is open Monday to Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. piece is open Monday to Friday from 10:00. to 6:00., Saturday from 10:00 to 3:00, and Sunday from 10:00 to 1:00 (although I think it’s best to call ahead at 011-447-5541). Treviso is at 31 Voorhout Street and is open Monday to Friday from 7:00 to 4:00 and Saturday from 7:00 to 12:00.

Read all of my #Gauteng52 posts and check out the interactive #Gauteng52 map.


  1. fragroom

    So many of Joburg’s gems are hidden. Part of the frustration and reward of living in this city. Cool post!

    • 2summers

      That’s so true. Thanks.

  2. Art Eye

    We have had so many lovely clients from your blog ! Thank you ! We will ensure they have a great visit !

    • 2summers

      Wow, already?! I didn’t realize I was that influential. Thank you 🙂

  3. autumnashbough

    I think I might have given up! Or done a lot of bitching about being unable to even find a door. As in, “Would it kill you to put up a sign? Any sign?!” Instead, you made it into a lovely adventure. Scavenger hunting for art and food. 🙂

    • 2summers

      This kind of thing is common in Joburg for some reason. Advertising just isn’t always a thing.

    • art

      Hi there , we have a large sign at the entrance saying 5th floor . We are working on a proper concierge service downstairs , I am sorry you gave up . Please just ask the security to show you where we are . We have noted the ‘hard to locate it ‘ and will work on fixing the problem . Thanks

      • 2summers

        Oh that’s good to know. I didn’t give up though! We did make it and hence the blog post 🙂



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