houses, Seaside

A compact Clifton apartment gets it just right

Elsa Young



compact clifton apartment The key design element in this Clifton apartment in Cape Town is the strong use of textures, as seen in the mounted Pele baskets from Africa Nova, hide stools from Oriental Concepts, roped drinks trolley from Cécile & Boyd, wooden-and-Perspex coffee table by Andrew Early Design Studio, beaded cushions from Bead Design Studio and hand-tufted rug from Herringbone Rugs.

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.

compact clifton apartment By removing a wall separating the kitchen from the dining room-cum-lounge, the space was cleverly transformed into a light-flooded and integrated living area.

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.’

compact clifton apartment Tulip chairs from Gone Rogue and an artwork by Gabi Lee Smit from her Shapes in Surrulus collection break up the angular space with their rounded forms.
compact clifton apartment Originally, the balustrade and staircase frame were polished stainless steel with mahogany-stained wooden treads, but as this didn’t reflect the minimalist aesthetic Michele was going for, she replaced the balustrade with a slatted wooden panel, coated the stair frame white and sanded and bleached the treads.

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.

compact clifton apartment Interest was added to the compact main bedroom with a wall-to-wall panelled headboard designed by Michele, a gilded artwork by Gabi Lee Smit and a felt throw by Krafthaus, which contrasts with the smooth white metal bedside TK lamps from Illumina Lighting.

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.

compact clifton apartment In the main bedroom, GoodWood Contemporary Furniture Co manufactured a bespoke TV cabinet, which conceals the TV while also providing additional storage.

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.

compact clifton apartment The tiles in the main en suite bathroom were all removed and epoxy-coated floors installed. Reflecting the white-on-white colour scheme is a clean-lined bathroom unit custom-made by Instyle Creations and a freestanding bath from Eurotrend.

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.’

compact clifton apartment A wooden rack from Superbalist.com is perfect for beach accessories.

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.

compact clifton apartment The same wall-to-wall panelled headboard design was used in the guest bedroom, where more of Gabi Lee Smit’s abstract pieces adorn the walls.
compact clifton apartment Custom-designed screens and a sliding door separate the bedroom from its en suite bathroom. The custom-made floating vanity is by Instyle Creations, the basin from Marblecast and the stool also from Cécile & Boyd.

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.

compact clifton apartment A drinks trolley, such as this one from Cécile & Boyd, is a great solution for a small space without room for a drinks cabinet.