Driving along Cape Town’s Victoria Road in Clifton on a day when the air is warm, the sea is twinkling blue and the soundtrack is something out of an Ibiza café, it’s a wonder to behold the tightly packed multilevel homes and apartment blocks. Looking like designer Lego set against the iconic curves of Lion’s Head with the white beaches of Clifton below, it’s the picture of some sort of paradise.
For Durban-based interior designer Michele Throssell, it’s also recently been the site of a dream project. Not only did she completely gut and renovate a quaint 85m² apartment dangling off the slopes of Clifton First Beach, but she was also initially tasked with finding the fixer-upper for her client to buy – so she had a hand in every aspect of the process, from start to finish.
‘The client was interested in an easy lock-up-and-go apartment for weekend escapes to Cape Town from Joburg, where she lives,’ says Michele. ‘I found this apartment online and she was happy to move ahead with the purchase and renovation.’
The double-storey property had been renovated a while back, but the finishes were dated and served to ‘close up’ the already tight space. Mahogany kitchen cabinetry, off-white tiled floors, bold grey grouting and lengthy chrome handles were just some of the off-putting elements. In short, it combined a ’90s timeshare aesthetic with the look and feel of a weekend bachelor pad. The brief to Michele was, first and foremost, to maximise on its prime location and views, secondly, to open up the building to create better flow and lastly, to keep it light, fresh and neutral for the illusion of space.
As with many properties in the exclusive, cliffy neighbourhood, it’s all about getting the angles right thanks to the rough terrain holding up the buildings. With this home, Michele had to undo before she attempted to redo. ‘The biggest challenge was that the apartment is long and narrow and the spaces very tight. The walls are angled and these angles had to be carefully considered when planning the space,’ she says.
When it came to the finishings, textured layering was Michele’s preferred modus operandi to create a more 3D experience than just an undefined space washed with loads of bright light. ‘I mixed various shades of white and cream as well as a touch of brass and gentle oatmeal tones, coming from accents of bamboo, wicker, bone beads and, of course, the textured wooden floors throughout,’ she says.
Michele drew further inspiration for the interiors from organic elements that you could imagine washing up on the shore below. Examples of this include the timber-slatted bed end in the main bedroom, which looks like it’s from a shipwreck, and the round scatters in the second bedroom that could be giant sand dollar shells, as well as the series of furry blankets, carpets and rattan accessories that resemble sea kelp and coral.
Even the artworks by Gabi Lee Smit from her abstract series Shapes in Susurrus resemble various life stages of a sea urchin cultivated in the mystical Atlantis. ‘I love the simplicity of these works,’ Michele says. ‘They capture the feeling I wanted to evoke of being at the beach.’
The selection of furniture was a very considered process because of the small footprint of the apartment. There is a certain kind of magic to interior design that the untrained eye is oblivious to, and compact homes are where that alchemy is best expressed. The golden rule is always to create the illusion of space and, aside from sticking to white and light palettes, balance large pieces of furniture with smaller items. ‘Because the apartment is small, we had to be pedantic in our spatial planning and with the size of furniture we selected,’ Michele says.
As she’s based in Durban, the job required a lot of travelling, but because of Michele’s attention to detail and accuracy, she nailed the project – and the results are well worth it. Small apartments can be difficult to renovate as is, but in a part of the world where feats of engineering genius hug the coastline in all sorts of unconventional and oblique ways, one thing is certain – when you get the balance right, the light always shines brighter.