Playful Sensibility: This Durban Home Combines Shades of Darkness in the Best Way

Combining shades of darkness and light with layered textures and a grown-up yet playful sensibility, this Durban home is a veritable chart-topper.

Lar Leslie, Styling Chrizanda Botha

Durban Home

'It's the abundance of light that makes the dark elements work in this house,' says interior designer Ruth Duke of Chris and Ruth Haralambous' Durban home in Kwa-Zulu-Natal. The architecture in the two-bedroom house by Dean Jay Architects, was designed to allow for true indoor-outdoor flow between the interior and garden spaces. 

Floor-to-ceiling doors that stack away completely let in plenty of light, ensuring that the palette of black, charcoal and white with timber accents doesn’t dominate. As the architecture was to be quite contemporary, Chris and Ruth realised that much of their collection of furniture would not work in the new space.

Durban home

Their brief to Duke was to create an interior that sits comfortably within the architectural design. Showcasing their collection of art was essential, too, and Duke explains that the dark, neutral palette allows for these treasured artworks – by South African artists such as Glenn Cox and Kristin Hua Yang – to stand out. ‘At night, especially, the dark tones recede and the colours and textures in the art and accessories become almost luminescent,’ she says.

Maintaining a balance between detail and simplicity – and between style and functionality – was key in both the architectural and interior design and the process was a collaboration during which Marc Oswell of Dean Jay Architects and Duke both spent time with the Haralambouses to better understand their lifestyle.

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Durban Home

‘We wanted an easy flow to the house and no wasted space,’ say Chris and Ruth. ‘We’d previously lived in a big, old house where areas like the separate dining room were almost never entered and we wanted to avoid that here. We’d also discovered that with both an indoor and outdoor dining and living area one was always underutilised, and we decided that we would simply open the house on both sides to give us the feel of sitting outside instead of duplicating these areas.’

The garden and courtyards are all completely private spaces that belie the proximity of the neighbouring houses. ‘Elevating the house above the road level has also enhanced the sense of privacy here – despite the home’s location on an estate,’ says Duke. This attention to functionality was important throughout the house and elements such as direct access from the garage, a large scullery, speakers throughout the house and stack-away doors make for a very liveable home with an easy flow from room to room.

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The idea was for the couple to feel comfortable and relaxed, wherever they chose to be. Stephen Wilson of Houtlander created a kitchen that provides a dramatic focal point in the living area. The brass panelling on the kitchen island provides a perfect foil for the matt black cabinetry. ‘There is a synergy between the cool neutral and warm neutral here, which we’ve continued in all areas of the home, adding metallic accents throughout,’ says Duke.

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‘The coherence of the whole design relies on keeping to a similar palette and repeating patterns such as the herringbone flooring.’ This doesn’t mean the scheme is bland, however, and Duke also added some unexpected touches with precious materials such as marble and agate, and pops of colour that sing against the neutral backdrop. ‘Much of the colour comes from the art, but there are one or two bright items – a patterned cushion, a chunk of stone, a handblown glass vase – that draw the eye and elevate the pared-back aesthetic into a layered, lived-in home.’

Durban Home

‘We also wanted the furniture pieces to have an artistic or architectural sensibility, with a focus on local design,’ say Chris and Ruth, and items from luminaries such as Dokter and Misses and LIM take centre stage alongside custom-made pieces (several of which were designed by Wilson) that adhere to the contemporary feel of the home while remaining inviting. ‘There is such a good balance between stylish and liveable here,’ say Ruth and Chris. ‘There is an ease, and nothing feels stiff or over-decorated. There are such beautiful pieces, but none feel too precious, and details like comfortable couches and soft rugs allow us to completely unwind.’