city, houses

Cool Off

Angela Buckland, Aubrey Jonsson


A commerce and accounting background is not what you’d immediately associate with Durban creative Rhenda Allan, the product and interior designer behind the edgy iKhaya online store. But in her striking Westville home you can see something of the accountant in the order she imposes on the many disparate objects she collects and creates with husband Nevin, and in the sense of harmony and balance she achieves.

‘I like order,’ she confesses, ‘and living in a hot, tropical city where the surroundings are so lush and overgrown, I think it helps if you keep interiors clean and cool.’ Rhenda has been designing homes for family and friends down the years, but turned professional 13 years ago when she and Nevin, then a busy golf director, tired of the pressures of Johannesburg life and returned to Durban. ‘Our son, Ryan, was three years old, and we wanted more time for him and each other, more time with my mom who lives here, and more time to create,’ she says. Rhenda began designing ‘Jac’ (jacaranda wood) and ‘Jil’ figurines and eco-friendly collectables, which she trained local crafters to make, while Nevin turned a passion for cabinet-making into a profession, producing frames, light fittings and furniture from her designs, and reconditioning retro or vintage finds.

Today Nevin produces his pieces in a dedicated iKhaya factory working from designs Rhenda develops in a home studio between burgeoning interior design commitments. By last year these had left her too busy to run her two Durban shops so she closed them and moved iKhaya online.

Recently, the Allans finally finished building a new home of their own – a double-storey extension to Rhenda’s mother’s house on a spacious Westville plot – and it has become an informal showroom of their stock. ‘iKhaya is the Zulu word for home, so it feels right,’ she says. Cool walls free of skirting boards or other features, floors screeded in white cement, and windows left bare above garden views or clad in simple blinds provide the perfect foil.

Downstairs is one long, airy room. A 1950s dining suite reupholstered in pale grey vinyl marks what Rhenda calls ‘the eating end’; Nevin’s signature clean-lined wood-and-glass kitchen cupboards and shelving indicate ‘the cooking area’; and a 1970s kiaat lounge suit re-covered in rough linen signals the ‘sitting room’. It’s left to her carefully curated collections of Jacs, recycled plastic Clonette dolls from Kenya, gold-faced ceramic Sootkoekie bunnies and other covetable collectables to capture attention.

Naked cement stairs hung with wooden iKhaya birds lead up to 16-year-old Ryan’s room, where a recycled TV stand makes a fun desk. Several of the wooden skateboards he creates with Nevin, an old periodic chart Rhenda framed and vintage targets make arresting wall features.

At the far end of the passage is the spacious master bedroom, where a meranti and kiaat bed, side tables and a quirky plywood light made by Nevin are offset by a walnut Art Deco armoire. But it’s between the bedrooms that the cool heart of the house lies – Rhenda’s studio. Lined with Nevin’s shelving, it exemplifies her iKhaya style with its accountant-neat rows of plain glass jars full of quirky finds – old erasers, wooden clothes pegs, scrabble pieces and miniature plastic toys bought online from factories long closed. Her eyes light up as she surveys them: ‘You wouldn’t believe what great chandeliers these clothes pegs can make.’

This article originally featured in the Jan/Feb 2014 of House and Leisure.