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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.