There’s something about Durban’s Morningside that draws creative souls, not least of all for the suburb’s wealth of solid old houses, which happily swing either way: heritage preserved and revered, or sporting a contemporary look and feel.
Both in the retail industry and with a passion for design, Anthony and Taryn Smith had their hearts set on finding a home in Morningside, spending weekends scouring the property pages or criss-crossing the suburb to look at show houses. Until this one. ‘Gargoyle water feature, cementitious paint, mondo grass around pavers, oversized pots, the whole Tuscan vibe,’ Anthony grimaces.
But for the Smiths, whose work has entailed extensive travel, beyond Tuscany lay opportunities to introduce their brand of influences from New York, London and Hong Kong. They also fell for the house’s open-plan interior, its close proximity to everything and its promise of a family lifestyle. ‘We overstretched ourselves completely,’ shrugs Anthony. ‘Still…’
The initial alterations had two key drivers, Tuscan elimination and practical family needs, such as installing a pool net. ‘I had to raise the pool to fit a net, so it needed decking. Ditto with the columns – once I’d boxed them in, it made sense to build the outside bar-come-lounging area. That’s the story of this house, no master plan, one thing always led to another,’ says Anthony.
The plan was always about creating space to fit the lifestyle of the couple and their sons Hayden (18 months) and Blake (five) – and an outdoor one at that. ‘Nothing beats coming home after work, pulling off the pool net, lighting a braai, and being with the kids. That’s our joy,’ Anthony explains.
His work in the clothing industry has taken him across the globe where he’s been exposed to inspiring design. ‘I always liked that whole New York bungalow look, burnt wood cladding, east-coast style, loads of black and Scandinavian furniture,’ he says. It’s this feel the couple aimed to achieve in their home – although, says Anthony, Taryn balked at an entirely black interior: ‘She convinced me to go “bovine”, but I did manage to paint a few sections black.’ The Oregon wooden floors, too, went black, but without losing the high and low notes of the wood grain.
Inside the property, the garden walls are matt black. The variegated greens and sculptural shapes of plants are skilfully curated by Anthony as a strong, striking foreground to the dark receding backdrop. From the house looking out, there’s a deliberate sense of the forest indoors, the wood, the green, the black, the play of light and dark. And by night, the uplighters throw organic shadows onto the wall.
Anthony’s an avid gardener, something he takes way beyond a love of growing plants. It’s also about design. Everything is handpicked for its colouring, its form, its habits, indoors and out. Big leaf plants hang in the kitchen, trail off furniture, and sit on shelves (‘A little Seventies kind of thing,’ he grins).
A warm counterpoint to the black walls and floors, wood of all kinds is a constant throughout the house. Anthony is a collector at heart and has amassed a serious assortment of wooden servers and chairs. In addition, the house is filled with finds from second-hand shops and markets, quirky collectables from their travels, original paintings and posters, and sentimental family pieces – items that epitomise timeless design rather than what’s trending. ‘We also love colour,’ says Anthony. ‘The bold black backdrop allows all these colours to jump out at you.’ And they do.
Originally published in HL May 2014.