At Home With Architect Thomas Chapman
Located in an Art Deco block in Killarney, Joburg, the ground-floor apartment of Tarryn and Thomas Chapman references the past while speaking to the present.
The Joburg apartment of architects Tarryn and Thomas Chapman is a distinctly contemporary family home that seamlessly blends the heritage of the building in which it is located. Situated in Gleneagles – one of Killarney’s most iconic Art Deco blocks that was designed by local architectural firm JC Cook and Cowen in 1934 – the two-bedroom apartment has been cleverly designed to make the most of its compact footprint.
Spilling out through open-plan living areas into a redesigned courtyard, the interiors provide a sense of space not often experienced in a relatively small apartment. You’d be forgiven for forgetting you’re in a block of flats, especially when seated at the monumental matte Carrara marble dining table in the living room, which flows out through full-volume glass doors to the outdoors.
For Thomas Chapman, whose architectural firm Local Studio has gained global acclaim for its work around the continent, the apartment’s ground-floor location was an instant draw.
‘For us, it’s about having a relationship with the street,’ he says. ‘The first opportunity we saw was that we could have this layering of spaces, where the lounge feeds into the courtyard which feeds into the semi-public garden which feeds into the street. And so the way that we live, and the way that this interior was designed, was in relation to the street.’
The couple bought the apartment in 2015 from a deceased estate, and immediately recognised the space’s potential. Unlike many other flats built in the 1930s, the basic structure and layout needed barely any alterations. The dividing walls between the entrance hall and kitchen had already been taken down, and the original blonde parquet flooring with dark inlay detailing was in pristine condition.
The Chapmans moved in before starting any renovations, with the exception of adding floor-to-ceiling shelves in the living room to house their large book collection. ‘Living in the space for a while helps you make informed design decisions,’ Thomas says.
‘We created a virtual model of the entire apartment,’ Tarryn adds, ‘and every time we bought a new piece, we’d put it into the model to see how it fitted.’ As architects, it’s not surprising that their approach was informed by practical considerations about how each area of the home would be used, rather than letting aesthetics dictate the decisions.
The Thomas Chapman signature style is clearly visible in the steel and concrete elements that make up the courtyard, a flexible space that reflects Local Studio’s reputation for creating clever urban design interventions. ‘We changed the position of the gate into the garden and opened up the doors leading out from the lounge, transforming the courtyard into an open space that is an extension of our living area,’ he says.
Inside, a neutral colour palette allows the couple’s collection of Mid-Century Modern pieces to take centre stage. ‘We slowly accrued furniture and built the space up,’ Thomas says, adding that many of their finds were sourced over the years from dealers around Johannesburg with whom they have built relationships.
Most of the contemporary furniture was designed by Tarryn, as seen in their young daughter Mia’s gently-hued bedroom, with its custom lighting, low chairs and wall units.
Practicality and ease of living were at the forefront of the renovation, and much of how Tarryn and Thomas use the space is determined by Mia. Bright, colourful pictures hang in the bathroom to liven up bath time, and a sunny corner of the living room features a play area that extends into the courtyard.
Before starting Damascus Design Studio – her own interior, furniture and lighting design company – Tarryn worked as a project architect for Silvio Rech and Lesley Carstens, who specialise in luxury resort design.
The white Carrara marble occasional table in the crisp master bedroom was designed and gifted by Carstens, and the Chapmans are quick to point out the benefits of having friends in the interior and design industries. The illustrated fabric of the blinds in the bedroom is by Lorenzo Nassimbeni, a friend of Tarryn’s, while the Colour Field paintings are by Thomas’ uncle, Anton Chapman.
With their expansive and effortless feel, the main living areas of the apartment are testament to Thomas and Tarryn’s expert planning and spatial considerations. The result is a home in perfect harmony with the historical character of the building, which simultaneously suits the family’s modern-day lifestyle and needs.
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