Creative Illovo Abode

Text Pippa Alcock Styling Leana Schoeman Photographs Aubrey Jonsson, Graeme Wyllie Johannesburg designers Ross and Leigh-Anne Drakes bought their Illovo apartment five years ago from an elderly woman with a penchant for pink. It came through in everything, from the walls and floors to the light fittings. ‘Our task was more than set,’ says Ross, who owns graphic design agency Nice Work. ‘We immediately tore out the dusty carpets throughout the flat and restored the original parquet floors to their mahogany best. It instantly felt like a new space.’ Its fusty colour scheme was quickly replaced with a neutral ivory grey on the walls, interspersed with feature walls washed a deep emerald green. The jewel tones echo the surrounding treetops and pick up the pots of greenery dotted around the apartment and balcony, giving the home a surprising sense of peace and tranquillity – so much so that you wouldn’t know it is situated on one of Joburg’s busiest roads. The couple love the fact that Illovo has morphed into a lively neighbourhood where they can walk to bars, coffee shops and restaurants. ‘Over the years we’ve been here, the area has become more and more vibey,’ says Leigh-Anne, a producer in the creative industry. ‘There’s so much within walking distance from us – it’s a real boon to be able to head off to dinner without a car in Joburg.’ When they’re not exploring their suburb, they’re happy spending their time at home working in their study or on DIY projects, or being with friends. As a joint wedding present from friends and family, the couple was given a new kitchen designed by architect friend and former neighbour Georg van Gass of GASS Architecture Studios. The original kitchen was small and separated from the rest of the living area by a thick wall. The frustrated foodies wanted an open-plan area built for entertaining, with clever, clean storage spaces to showcase their ceramics and dinnerware. ‘Georg took our ideas and refined them into a workable, livable area. Now, our kitchen lends itself to long lunches and dinners with friends, and has truly become the heart of our home,’ says Leigh-Anne. ‘Interestingly, even though we have fewer cupboards than before, thanks to Georg’s clever design we now have more storage space, which really works for apartment living.’ The Drakes’ home feels bigger than its 160m2 footprint thanks to the height of the ceilings, the open layout of the floor plan, and the rows of large windows that let in as much light as possible. That they have a disciplined aesthetic helps, too. ‘We’ve been really strict when selecting what to display and where to display it. I’ve walked away from so many beautifully designed pieces because I instinctively know that they won’t work in our home,’ says Leigh-Anne. ‘And it’s difficult to do,’ she adds, laughing. For the three rescued cats that complete this urban family, the couple designed and made the scalloped ‘cat shelves’ assembled on one of the walls – ‘as well as a scratch post in colours that suit our living area,’ adds Ross, who’s adamant that pet paraphernalia needn’t look tacky or out of place within a stylish home. Recycling is ‘a big priority’ for the couple. Ever resourceful, Ross salvaged an old workbench from the science department at Wits University for their study, now sitting with industrial work stools and a solid filing cabinet he inherited from his grandfather. ‘We’re both very aware of the sustainability of our furniture, especially the wood we use,’ says Leigh-Anne, pointing out their kiaat bed, made for them by a friend, and the Goet lights in the dining room, crafted from discarded jacaranda. It’s considered details such as these that add up to make this cool, compact apartment all the more a special home. This article was originally featured in the March 2013 issue of House and Leisure.