houses, houses, Renovations, small spaces

A Brilliant Disguise

Greg Cox

Minimalist, constrained, neat, clever – the lexicon of compactness is varied and often euphemistic; the inevitable inference, though, is that there’s not much room to spare. There are, however, advantages to limited space. When you’re focused on making the most of the available square metres, creativity is simply invited to flow. And, substituting for a large residence, the result is often a gem of unusual angles and unexpected pleasures. The Cape Town home of noted furniture maker Andrew Dominic and his wife, Susie Williams, tucked into the newly gentrified suburb of Woodstock, is one such outcome. Andrew’s craftsmanship and Susie’s interior-decor flair have combined to turn their house into a disproportionately interesting collection of dual-purpose areas and functional corners. Four years ago the couple bought what was then a narrow, single-storey 144m² cottage, and spent the next two years planning how they would revamp and improve it. ‘It was time well spent,’ says Susie. ‘By living in the house first, we could “feel” out our ideas and assess exactly what we needed – and what could work. Designed functionality was what we were aiming for.’ Most original Woodstock houses came equipped, basically, with one of everything: a bathroom, a kitchen, somewhere to sleep and a spot in which to eat. The drawback is that they were usually divided into a series of even smaller rooms for those purposes. Andrew and Susie’s solution for their home was to demolish the interior walls on the ground floor, creating one surprisingly large living area, including a kitchen area and dining nook. (Behind the only interior door is the original loo, now supplemented with a bath and basin.) The couple also added a mezzanine level, almost in the roof, which they treated in the same expansive way, thus making a similarly open, seamless space. Another challenge was that the cottage was dark. To maximise the available light and open it up to Cape Town’s temperate climate, they decided to remove several layers of ceiling, install plenty of glass, and make use of strategically placed skylights on the mezzanine level. As a result, today the living area is flanked on one side by glass doors that give onto a long narrow patio. This area, which extends into a kitchen-garden at the rear, adds welcome outdoor living – with herbs and flowers on tap – and space for the family’s two malamutes to play in. ‘It was bare cement when we bought the house,’ says Susie, ‘and we love the fact that it’s now a little oasis of jasmine, herbs and granadilla vines.’ Upstairs, reached by an open-tread staircase, is an airy room – part bedroom, part play space for the couple’s three-year-old daughter, Gabrielle. Skylights allow plenty of sunshine to pour in. Dividing this area from her parents’ bedroom is an Oregon-floored walkway and a neat black-walled bathroom. Here, too, skylights let in the light and provide welcome glimpses of the mountain. To demarcate the spaces, Andrew brought his furniture skills (honed in the UK where he trained and worked as a furniture designer-maker) to bear: his own beautifully wrought furniture pieces – the kitchen stools, a lounge server, dining chairs and table – give the home a strong, personal aesthetic appeal. Space-enhancing design elements include the kitchen island, which does double duty as crockery shelf; and a wedge-shaped dining table that fits into a tiny corner of the living area and, astonishingly, can accommodate eight people. This is effectively an urban home for a starter family, or a couple wanting a lock-up-and-go with outdoor lifestyle space near the CBD. Careful and imaginative touches have crafted it into a uniquely welcoming residence with stretch-out space. Good things, small packages… This article originally featured in the March 2014 issue of House and Leisure.