houses, small spaces

Paint this Small Canvas

Micky Hoyle

What this diminutive Cape cottage lacks in square metres, it makes up in clever spatial planning and arty punch

When Cape Town publicist Jean-Pierre de la Chaumette met his partner Jonathan Bain four years ago, Jonathan had just bought and renovated a small Victorian cottage off Green Point's Somerset Road, 100m² in size including its narrow side courtyard.

'It was a bachelor pad when I first moved in,' Jean-Pierre laughs. 'There were mismatched items of furniture, hand-me-downs and some beautiful art pieces but nothing was displayed or hung properly. The interior design was lacking cohesion, so I had to take our different styles and possessions and ensure they worked within a very challengingly small space.'

A creative director and partner in an advertising agency in Johannesburg, Jonathan had commissioned interior architect Nicci Drzewicki to oversee the renovation. Vestiges of the cottage's original footprint were retained to imbue his Cape Town pied à terre with authenticity and history. With its original wooden floors, stripped lintels and ceiling panels, the bones of a beautiful, compact living area were in place – ready for the decorating flair of Jean-Pierre, a sometime interior stylist.

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Sections of wall had been removed to improve flow, allowing conversation between the living area and kitchen, for example. A vista through the glass back door into the courtyard had been opened up, bringing in light. 'It's very difficult to get these vignettes within tight urban spaces,' notes Jean-Pierre; yet judicious structural changes can achieve just that.

In the kitchen, a large island with cupboard space below ups the sociability quotient, as dinner guests gather around it while a meal is being prepared. The dining table, narrow enough not to crowd the space, can nevertheless accommodate eight people.

Nicci and Jonathan concealed all the plumbing and piping in the walls and under the ground during the renovation. They also reinforced the loft for storage and installed a trapdoor in the ceiling with a nifty built-in ladder which can be unfolded and lowered in seconds.

Jonathan had always wanted an art wall, so the couple set about creating one together early on. This has become a space-saving solution for their ever-expanding art collection. The pair make annual trips to the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy in London, never returning empty-handed: 'we're like kids in a sweet shop,' admits Jean-Pierre. Pieces by Tracey Emin and Louise Hayward mingle with works by locals artists, friends, and Jonathan's mother, Winnie Bain. The art wall is continually refreshed (Jean-Pierre admits he suffers from 'decorating restlessness'), and pieces are swapped with those in their apartment in Johannesburg, where Jonathan spends the week.

In the study, art shelves allow Jean-Pierre to rotate smaller artworks without repairing holes in the wall. A custom-made bookshelf with cupboards below allows the couple to hide away items they prefer not to display, while the wall of shelves extending up to the ceiling creates a small library. To save space, Jonathan opted for a wetroom-style bathroom with a shower. In the adjacent bedroom, built-in cupboards, narrow bedside tables with deep drawers made by friend Justin van Breda, and capacious storage drawers under the bed to accommodate Jean-Pierre's extensive shoe collection ensure everything has a place. Seen through curling, rusted security bars custom-made by Robbie Stemmet, the courtyard provides visual breathing space. 'We wanted to create an overgrown jungle oasis reminiscent of a courtyard in a Buenos Aires pensione,' explains Jean-Pierre. Here, the original brickwork is exposed, the peeling paint of the wooden gate left intact. Thanks to the deep concrete planter Jonathan installed along the wall, merely a few centimetres in width, a wall garden of jasmine, white clematis 'Princess Diana' creeper and orchids in hanging baskets supplies green views to the bedroom, bathroom and study. Despite its modest size, the courtyard is a respite from the bustle of the neighbourhood, and has become their preferred morning coffee spot. 'We have aspirations to have one, larger home one day,' says Jean-Pierre. Until then, he and Jonathan will continue their curatorship of this perfectly small space. This article was originally published in HL March 2015