houses, small spaces

Compact Durban Home

Styling Leana Schoeman; Photographs Angela Buckland


WHO: Amber Jones

WHERE: Durban

SIZE: 220m2

Amber Jones apologises – the only time she is free to chat is after 7.30 at night. As a trend forecaster based in Durban, she’s just returned from one of her trips abroad, and is busy catching up at work and with her directional fashion blog, Thunder in our Hearts. The work hours of her events manager husband, Greg are also long and unusual. While they may not spend as much time at home as some young couples, they treasure it. ‘Home is where we can retreat, chill together or with friends, and recharge,’ says Amber.

Amber met Greg while waitressing before she studied fashion design at Linea Academy, and married him six years later. For the first six years their home was a one-and-a-half bedroom flat in Glenwood. ‘Although it was compact, it was just what we needed at the time – a place that was all our own,’ says Amber. ‘We filled the space with our personality and it very rarely felt cramped.’ But its contents slowly accumulated, from piles of fashion and decor magazines (‘I’m an addict!’), to artworks and memorabilia from their travels. ‘I’m also a Catholic icon victim,’ she confides. ‘I love plaster Marys and angels!’ Two years ago the couple were ready for a bigger home. ‘A first house is quite a big step, it feels very grown-up,’ Amber says. ‘We didn’t want anything too big. We liked the ease of compact living.’ Her mother-in-law found the solution: a traditional three-bedroom 1940s house on a small plot behind Berea Park. ‘It had high ceilings and generous windows, so it felt breezy and full of natural light. We fell in love at once!’

The best part for the young couple was that it needed little work. Floors were already glossy pine throughout, giving a sense of spaciousness and flow, and recently built-in cupboards enhanced that. The kitchen and dining room had been joined to create an airy entertainment area opening through glass doors to a veranda and pool. ‘All we had to do,’ says Amber, ‘was paint, and have our library-style shelves installed – Greg’s millions of books needed a home.’

Although conventional wisdom holds that plain, light colours work best to create an illusion of space, she has never been one for convention. ‘The walls were all off-white, and the rooms looked big, but clinical and dull.’ They repainted with cool grey in bedrooms and passageways, and yellow in the kitchen and dining area, continuing the colours across cupboards for a seamless effect, or keeping these white to flow with snowy frames, skirtings and dados.

Amber then added bold accents on single walls, from deep teal in the master bedroom and home-office ‘for calm’, to charcoal and gold floral wallpaper (found online) in the lounge ‘for some drama and fun. I’ve always wanted to play with wallpaper, and used on one wall it doesn’t cost too much.’

Against these backdrops she placed an eclectic mix of furnishings reflecting her own taste (‘quite OTT’) and Greg’s, which is ‘clean and modern with a twist’. So in the sitting room, his choice of sleek, contemporary Leisure Lounge sofas recovered in charcoallinen and 1970s-style woven, white chairs are offset by her choice of ornate antique-style mirror and that wallpaper.

To contain the mix and prevent the kind of clutter that ‘closes down space’, Amber grouped collectables in dedicated displays – her Mary icons on one table, vintage bottles on another, Greg’s favourite hats on one wall, her magazines and their books on another, fitted with floor-to-ceiling shelves. This ‘vertical library’ in their dining area may be their greatest space-saver, she muses. Designed by her dad and built by a friend’s husband, everything is accessible, so it’s functional, ‘and it makes a bit of a visual feature in itself’. It’s a solution quite as bright and smart as these homeowners.

This article was originally featured in the March 2013 issue of House and Leisure.