Inspired design hacks have turned this small urban apartment into an expansive work-eat-sleep-play zone.
Small apartment living in Cape Town, South Africa
Between the lines
Opposite page: Keeping with the parallel design grid, a long table continues the elongating line. Aided by chromelegged Eames chairs, its lean legs and floating top underscore the sense of airiness. This page, left: Glass sliding doors facilitate indoor- outdoor living. The table on the balcony is easily repurposed as an indoor dining extension that seats 10.
Divide & conquer
Below left: A wooden room divider works hard: it demarcates the entrance, separates the kitchen space and houses appliances. Below right: Mid- century Modern accents such as this coffee table and cushion bring a pop edge. The photograph is by Rob Nicholls, and the wooden objects on it depict New York’s skyline.
Room with a view Above: With the adjoining balcony, the sitting area feels expansive – especially since it enjoys uninterrupted views of the beachfront. The Mid- century Modern occasional chair is, says Nicholls, “the most comfortable chair ever”. Below left: The most genius aspect has to be the mezzanine level extension. As the gradient would have been too steep, architect Michael Lumby of L+L Architects devised a double staircase, with left and right steps at alternate heights. This meant it was possible to add the extra 20m bedroom to the space.
Upstairs, downstairs Above and below centre: Wooden fixtures on the mezzanine link the upstairs space to the living area below. Nicholls has been collecting cameras for the past 10 years – and all of these actually work, as does the radio (an original from the 1960s, which was his mother’s). The nesting dolls are a memento from a shoot for Smirnoff: they represent Russian presidents. Below right: Glossy black and white faux marble tiles and an expanse of glass transform a small bathroom into an opulent pamper zone.
What was a poky, dark studio is now experienced as a generously proportioned, airy and open multifunctional double-volume space.
Genius,” said Samuel Johnson, “is that energy which collects, combines, amplifies, and animates.” It’s a definition worth remembering now that ‘genius’ has joined ‘bespoke’ and ‘curated’ in the list of overused design jargon.
‘Genius’ in its true sense is the only word that can do justice to the spatial reconfiguration and astonishing innovation behind film director and editor Rob Nicholls’ loft-cum-studio in Sea Point – Cape Town’s most cosmopolitan urban strip.
With the help of architect Michael Lumby of L+L Architects, what was a poky, dark and awkwardly proportioned studio is now experienced as a generously proportioned, airy and open multifunctional double-volume space.
One of the most obvious decisions that adds to the illusion of space is the commitment to a neutral palette for the frame – which involved applying a hard white epoxy coating to what would have qualified as a good example of original parquet flooring.
Another no-brainer was maximising natural light and accentuating the expansive open views – high-placed picture windows in the kitchen, entrance and bathroom look out towards Table Mountain while a symmetrical pair of square glass sliding doors lead onto a generous balcony and bring in the virtually uninterrupted beachfront, seascape and, of course, dramatic sunsets.
Crucially, says Nicholls, the “real key” was Lumby’s solution to the most ubiquitous of all small-space problems: storage.
“This is what led everything,” he explains. Running the entire length of the space is a singular unit with dedicated kitchen, scullery, cooking, dining and living segments, which demarcate living zones according to function.
The unit works hard – both precluding space-shrinking interruptions to the flow, and turning the disproportional length of the apartment into an advantage by swinging the orientation away from the narrow confines of its breadth. The use of wood makes this fixture a feature in its own right and sets up an aesthetic grid in which a matching room divider separates the entrance from the greater area, while clearly defining the kitchen.
These spatial strategies work together to alter one’s perception and experience of the actual dimensions. They are effective and inspired, clever and creative. But ultimately, they’re not what make ‘genius’ the only appropriate word to describe this apartment’s design.
The bona fide genius lies in the roof extension – a mezzanine bedroom level that added an extra 20m to the space as well as double-volume airiness to the living area below. Specifically, it lies in the double staggered staircase that “collects, combines, amplifies and animates” the entire apartment. This enables access to the mezzanine despite a steep trajectory, while providing a streamlined wardrobe and ample storage.
Nicholls’ aesthetic sensibilities are a perfect match for his living space.
“Mid-century Modern is probably my biggest influence in terms of design,” he says. With a background in photography and drawing, framing and composition are second nature to him. Although he leans towards minimalism, he’s no fan of clinical Modernist clichés. “I hate stark,” he stresses – a statement borne out by his home’s décor.
A tightly edited and ever-changing selection of his own photographs and found images hangs on the walls, punctuated by artworks by friends and interesting collections (vintage cameras, for example, or wooden miniatures of the New York skyline’s notable buildings). Furnishings and plants provide splashes of colour, rich textures and warmth, and that Nicholls’ table regularly seats up to 10 dinner guests, says it all: this may be a small space, but it makes for a large life.