city, houses

Let there be light

Elsa Young


Just a block away from the green belt of Blairgowrie’s Delta Park, this quiet, leafy street has to be one of Joburg’s best-kept secrets. For Mila and Chris Proudfoot, the location provided the best of both worlds – easy access to the well-maintained green lung, and proximity to good schools and the city bustle. ‘The park was a definite draw,’ says Mila. ‘It’s a wonderful place to walk with our children and the horses give it a real sense of country. Chris enjoys biking along the spruit too – we use it a lot.’

The cane armchairs in the light-filled living room are from Gumtree (gumtree.co.za). The couple use an inherited brass scale to store the TV remotes. The velvet scatters were bought from Tonic Design.

What the couple bought was a 1960s cookie-cutter house, one of several designs that were used to roll out the developing suburb. ‘It was in good condition,’ notes Mila, ‘just very dated and dark.’ The simple three-bedroom, one-bathroom house with a generous garden was symbolic of the era – abundant Slasto, steel-framed windows and an odd disconnect between indoors and out. ‘There were almost no views of the garden, except from a small east-facing patio. The tiny windows and masses of burglar bars made it feel quite poky, but we knew it could be transformed into a wonderful family home.’

Two substantial renovations followed – the first was barely completed when daughter Luca (now two and a half) arrived five weeks early. ‘We wanted to open things up, to let in as much light as possible and create an easy flow between the living spaces and the garden,’ says Mila. To fashion a light-filled box of sorts, the northern wall of the living room was broken through and access to the new patio was achieved via steel-and-glass doors. The existing patio was reclaimed and enclosed with glass – a nifty solution that both increased space and achieved instant garden vistas.

mila_living3 Frankie takes it easy next to a chair from Weylandts

True to its 1960s-suburbia roots, the house had several interesting quirks. ‘The floors were an orangey pine laminate,’ recalls Mila. ‘In surprisingly good nick, but not the look we were after.’ In line with the couple’s penchant for clean lines (and a definite leaning towards the industrial), they replaced all the timber with concrete screed.

In the kitchen, a sturdy built-in breakfast nook which took up valuable space was immediately dispatched. ‘We also painted all the melamine kitchen cupboards a deep charcoal,’ says Mila. ‘Paring down the space and living with it for a while helped to clarify our thoughts for the next set of changes.’

During the second phase of the renovations, the couple substantially enlarged the kitchen. ‘We broke through on two sides, adding doors and creating a scullery. Probably the most surprising challenge was the kitchen floor. The tiles that we chose were so thick that we ended up having to grind out a cavity below floor level.’ At the same time they added on an en-suite bathroom, enlarged Luca’s bedroom and upgraded the existing family bathroom. ‘Our second daughter, Frankie, arrived towards the end of all the chaos – she timed it pretty well!’

mila_living2 The cane armchairs in the light-filled living room are from Gumtree

What Mila and Chris have created is a modern family-friendly space. Relaxed yet elegant, it reflects their shared appreciation for clutter-free interiors. ‘Our tastes are very similar and thankfully neither of us likes to hoard. We’d far rather have a few meaningful pieces with provenance than things we don’t need or use.’

Mila, who is a freelance magazine writer, admits that the industry has influenced her style. ‘You get to see so much and you take away those aspects that you love. My dream house would definitely be a converted church or barn – somewhere with great proportions and a feeling of the countryside, but not far from the city.’

Their preferred palette is mostly neutral and reflects Mila’s ongoing obsession with grey. ‘It’s highly versatile and I particularly love the dark, moody greys.’ The couple’s artworks, in contrast, are bright and contemporary. Patina abounds too, from an oak dining table that belonged to Mila’s parents to a pair of cane armchairs that were rescued from a shebeen. It’s a home of character – considered, comfy, authentic.

‘We’re very happy with what we’ve achieved,’ says Mila. ‘We love the light and the space, and especially the proximity to the Delta. You don’t even have to get in the car.’

Originally published in HL October 2016.