Open Home

In­spired de­sign hacks have turned this small ur­ban apart­ment into an ex­pan­sive work-eat-sleep-play zone.

Good - - HOME - Words Laura Twiggs. Pho­tog­ra­phy War­ren Heath. Styling Sven Al­berd­ing

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.

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