About a year after Greg and Leith Gamble renovated their home in Melville, Joburg, they discovered they were expecting a baby. ‘So we quickly did another renovation to make it child-friendly,’ says Greg.
As one half of the duo (Philippe van der Merwe being the other) that founded Tonic Design, a highly respected and awarded interior- and furniture-design studio, Greg might be prone to blithe understatement about the scale of alterations and upgrades needed. But with the second revamp complete and another baby on the way, Greg and Leith certainly aren’t planning any more building in the foreseeable future.
When the couple first saw the property, they weren’t looking for a place in the area. Greg says he’s always lived in Melville, Brixton and Auckland Park, and was thinking of venturing into suburbia ‘where you can walk out of the house onto a lawn’.
Nevertheless, they went and had a look. It was a ‘charming little house perched on top of the hill’ with double gables and an ‘overgrown, terraced garden’. It sits high above the street on a steep slope overlooking the Melville Koppies – not that you’d have known it. ‘The view was only visible from one little bedroom window,’ says Greg. But they snapped it up immediately.
When he set about making the changes, Greg discovered that although it was an old building, there wasn’t much worth preserving except its charm. ‘We replaced the roof, the electrics, the plumbing and the wooden floors in the first phase of the renovation,’ he says.
The living area, which was previously three small rooms, was opened up and windows were knocked open towards the vista so that light floods in and the views carry right through to the back of the house.
‘The windows all seem to have different perspectives,’ says Greg. The guest bedroom, a corner room on the top floor, has views of Westcliff Ridge as well as the koppies. He says he was careful to match the original steel window frames but after two renovations, only three of those originals remain – the rest are all new.
The second phase of renovation was more dramatic. The single garage at ground level was lifted 2m and converted into a room for the Gambles’ son James. They cast a slab and put a double garage below at street level, and created a grassy play area and garden out front. They also added an extension with the blonde-wood galley kitchen. A little balcony at the front of the house was elongated on both sides to run its full length, and includes outdoor sitting and dining areas.
The interiors are a tribute to Greg’s passions and enthusiasms. From when he was a boy amassing stacks of comics to later on, when he began collecting ceramics and furniture, he loves searching for rare and sought-after pieces. It’s to do with the thrill of the hunt, but more than that, the process of discovery. ‘I like researching and getting interested in something I’ve found, and then learning more about it,’ he says.
The furniture, lights, ceramics, art and even classic Italian bicycles from the ’70s and ’80s that fuel his appetite for design can be found throughout the house, although the interiors appear miraculously uncluttered. It’s not an ‘interior design’ by any stretch, although it has all been beautifully arranged and resolved by Greg’s expert eye.
This eclectic collection of furniture is something that has grown with Greg over the years, and as time goes by, he’s filtered it down and edited it, allowing for a change in direction. Items are taken out of storage and displayed, while others are removed from the house and put away.
The thread that ties it all together is his interest in modern design, with examples of Greg’s beloved Ercol furniture dotted around as well as works gifted to him by his close friend Gregor Jenkin. ‘There are also lots of postmodern and ’80s things, plus some antiques,’ he says. ‘I like mixing it up.’
Of course, contemporary local designers are represented, too, such as James Mudge who designed the dining table, and there are also Tonic Design pieces woven into the arrangement.
Greg has ‘always collected pottery and ceramics’, but his focus has recently shifted to South African studio pottery, such as that of Esias Bosch, Ian Glenny, Andrew Walford and Tim Morris. Rorke’s Drift ’70s tapestries and hangings adorn the walls, and the art on display is all African.
‘We’ve always stocked art at the showroom,’ says Greg. ‘Usually up-and-coming artists, because once they are established, they go to galleries.’ He’s kept those that resonate with him and has a collection of work by local artists ranging from virtual unknowns to the likes of Gerhard Marx, Zander Blom and Anton Kannemeyer.
As a glimpse into the private space of one of the country’s top designers, the Gambles’ home is fascinating – and a masterclass in how to live alongside design and collectibles.
This home originally appeared in House and Leisure’s May issue.