This traditional Durban North home guards its secrets well. From the outside, only elegant, soaring palms along the cul-de-sac hint at that colonial Durban sensibility. It’s white, quiet and unobtrusive. Step inside, and its voice is far louder, with a hint of laughter. The current homeowners lived a stone’s throw from this solid 1950s home, but from the moment they saw it, they knew it would be their new home. Seven years on, without altering its footprint, they’ve reworked many of the spaces and finishes to accommodate a contemporary lifestyle that celebrates everything great about Durban living.
It’s not a home easily labelled: the design is steered away from the obvious with unexpected twists arising from the essentially classic palette. Architecturally, a structured room layout was favoured over a vast open-plan space, but the flow was revolutionised, along with the floor plan of the kitchen and adjoining entertainment and lounging areas.
Interior designer Shirley Gifford Nash has been involved with the project from the outset, and she was determined to reassert the character of this grand old lady. Throughout the home, wherever possible or practical, original elements, such as natural stone pillars, pressed ceilings and original floors, were retained, restored and highlighted.
Rather than taking a blanket view of the home and its interior, each room or space has its own mood. There’s nothing like wallpaper to set the tone – glitzy and sumptuous in a guest bathroom; cool and crisp in a boy’s bedroom. Just as much as Shirley enjoyed advising on works of art for the home, so too, did she love the giant tomes of imported wallpaper. A single wall here or an entire room there has created a mood and begun a certain conversation, and, like paint, it’s easily adapted to suit maturing tastes and ever-changing trends.
The homeowners love to entertain, adore cooking – indoors and out – and wanted a multipurpose kitchen that not only offered a more workable solution, but created ample room for family and friends to be part of, or party to, the action. In essence, it’s a socialising space. Rupert Spence of Sphere Design & Architecture was tasked with reworking the area and, importantly, connecting it to the garden:
‘The style and finishing of the kitchen needed to be anything but typical. We did the architectural layout and language, as well as the interior design aspects of the kitchen, cabinetry, courtyards and drinks area. The existing kitchen – situated in a wing of the house – was inhibited in size by the adjacent laundry room. We developed the new concept by relocating it and exposing the rafters to maximise the volume of the room, as well as opening it up on either side to the external areas.’
For Rupert the result challenges preconceived notions of the residential kitchen, which is precisely what the homeowners wanted. Visually, the black subway tiles, the stained Saligna floorboards, striking light fittings, and the inclusion of a Cécile & Boyd cabinet in the fixtures, gave the kitchen a dark glamour.
Exit the kitchen on the east side and you step onto a deck area, which is shaded by a slatted pergola and overlooks the garden terrace on one side; on the other, there’s the linear courtyard with built-in seating, planted green walls and a focal indigenous tree. These areas became an extension of the kitchen, and allowed the architects to continue certain finishes and introduce others to complement both the interior and exterior. The palette of hues and surfaces was very specifically selected, says Rupert. ‘For the external areas, we wanted to keep finishes raw and uncomplicated, so we chose polished cement flooring, roughly pointed brickwork, galvanised steel and natural timber; internally, we went for matt finishes, natural timber flooring, subway tiles and marble patterned stone.”
Over the years, the homeowners – together with Shirley – have gradually added and subtracted elements, spring-boarding off the largely classic canvas. They’ve introduced vibrant splashes of colour and texture on key walls, lifted fitted carpets and stained the original parquet, decked outdoor areas and tiled others, and they’re always adding personal elements, such as a newly acquired piece of art, a mirror or fresh linen. They’re always eager to introduce more light, yet never at the expense of the home’s core design. It’s a family home, with a glorious kitchen at its heart, outdoor spaces to face whatever weather nature throws at it, and a personality that reflects the homeowners. Just as it should be. Rupert Spence, Sphere Design & Architecture, firstname.lastname@example.org, spheredesign.co.za
Originally published in HL June 2015