Entering Daniel Brown’s ground-floor apartment while he makes a cup of coffee in his efficient, timber-clad kitchen, you can’t help but acknowledge that if some people look like their dogs or partners (the subject of many a photo series), then there’s something to be said for the personification of homes that look just like their owners. And this is the case with Daniel and his completely open-plan, one-bedroom apartment in Fresnaye, Cape Town, which is designed over three levels.
The words ‘interesting’, ‘achingly cool’ and ‘unexpectedly edgy’ come to mind when considering this compact abode. It’s as uncontrived as its owner and you can tell that the interior choices and combinations are reflections of someone who knows the value of good design and the mantra of ‘less is more’.
The fact that Daniel’s good friend and business partner, architect Chris van Niekerk, transformed the home into the ultimate bachelor pad is probably why it’s such a well-executed job of self-preservation for Daniel. The two are part of Africandy, the South African online design portal, so when it comes to personal aesthetics, they just understand each other. ‘I trust and respect Chris as an architect and a creative, so I gave him free rein and as expected, he delivered a gorgeous apartment,’ says Daniel.
The brief for this space was relatively open-ended, with the kitchen and other joinery being the major changes – this time around. It turns out that this is the second renovation of the place by Chris: the first was back in 2005 when it belonged to another friend who asked him to help with an upgrade. It was to be Chris’ first project as a professional architect, with him having just finished his practical training. ‘When Daniel first saw the apartment in 2009, he fell in love with it and always told himself that when he was in a position to buy it, he would,’ says Chris. ‘Last year, he contacted the owner to see whether he would be willing to sell it to him, and he did – and so began the second iteration of alterations.’
So how do you maximise space while at the same time turning a place into a luxurious home? First things first: you tackle the fact that the apartment is on the ground floor of a heritage-protected block. ‘The apartment is in a listed Art Deco building situated on the downward slope of a street,’ says Chris. ‘Suspended timber floors were the norm back then, and this resulted in a huge void or basement level under the floorboards, which we decided to use. We had to strip out the timber floor and remove about half a metre of dry rubble underground, which gave us a great deal of volume. A new floor slab was cast and Daniel now has far more space than was there previously.’
The next step was to design a functional yet creative means of dividing the apartment, all while keeping it somewhat open-plan. ‘A single internal door was required for privacy in the bathroom,’ says Chris, ‘and the rest of the spatial separation was achieved by inserting different elements to create numerous zones of varying degrees of privacy. There are restricted view lines for areas requiring more privacy, like the bedroom.’
The main device used for this clever separation of space was a central metal platform. It’s the heart of this home from which all areas lead, and around which much of the joinery pivots. ‘The metal structure made the kitchen and dining area more intimate, which contrasts well with the double-volume height in the entrance zone,’ says Chris. ‘It also allowed for additional floor area to accommodate the lounge above, and is the physical barrier between the public and private parts of the apartment.’
The materials used throughout this renovation were kept in as natural a state as possible – from the exposed concrete beams in the ceiling and the gracefully ageing metal structure, to the matt slate floor tiles and timber kitchen cladding. The artwork is the perfect foil to the considered envelope of the space and reads like a catalogue listing of top South African contemporary art – including Zander Blom, Wim Botha and Anton Kannemeyer, to name a few.
There is also a host of noteworthy designer pieces, many of which have a slight eccentric edge to them – like the Magis Cu-Clock, a cuckoo clock by designer Naoto Fukasawa. And as Chris so aptly puts it, ‘It’s not one particular element that makes this space distinct, but rather the experience of it.’