PEOPLE: Gift wrapped: Antonia Labia

Antonia Labia of Casa Labia café explains why visual appeal is important in her family’s exquisite heritage building turned cultural centre in Muizenberg.

This appeared in Indwe inflight magazine in Dec 2010

History of Casa Labia on Muizenberg’s beachfront? My grandfather, Count Natale Labia, was the first Italian ambassador to South Africa. He built Casa Labia in 1929, modelling it on Palazzo Labia in Venice. All the art, gilt ceilings, silk wall panels, chandeliers and marble fireplaces were shipped by designer Angelo Zaniole. Eighty-one years later I’ve restored that original splendour.

What is inside the Casa Labia house? We’ve created the café in the original living room, with reception rooms leading off so the public can wander and admire the interiors. We have a boutique and a contemporary art gallery. We call it a cultural centre. It’s a beautiful space where we host events such as poetry readings, music concerts and workshops.

The café menu? Few can do food simply like Judy Badenhorst. She’s an experienced chef, combining Italian classics with proudly South African ingredients in her unique way. The food is tasty and visually appealing. You might eat roasted tomato and pepper soup, aubergine and orange salad, and spinach and ricotta pancakes. Her rich, moist Italian-style cake is delicious. dsc_0010.jpg

How did you create the luxe café feel? Flock Design created our contemporary café with old-time elegance. We use damask linen and roses on tables; Princess chairs with original brass chandeliers and marble fireplaces. Although Italy is in our hearts, South Africa is in our soul. Our mostly-local customers are a mix of ages. Due to its seaside location, the café is a destination. It feels special without being pretentious. The food is good enough to bring people back.

Describe yourself? Somebody aesthetically-minded. I worked in public relations and later studied interior design. Food, wine, art and travel are passions. Italian food is my favourite – I love the pastas, fruit and vegetables. And on the French side I love Champagne – I’ll find any excuse to drink it.

Casa Labia Tel 021 788 6062.