There’s a tangible sense of calm as you walk into the living room of Richard and Gaby Sutton’s Oaklands home. For starters, there’s not a single iota of clutter – not even on a Monday after a busy weekend of entertaining. Summer light streams into the space, washes off the crisp white walls and emphasises the neutral palette – a quiet commingling of taupe and pale grey. ‘Fortunately we share the same aesthetic,’ laughs Gaby. ‘We like things clean and simple – clutter’s a bit of an enemy.’
Richard originally bought an old Joburg classic – a 1936 shingle-roofed house set on a generous stand. Last year the couple decided to transform the building into their dream home, consulting Gaby’s brother, architect Gregory Katz. ‘The house was a grande dame of sorts,’ says Gregory, ‘and we knew we’d have to handle her quite carefully. Richard had lived there on his own for many years, and some of the rooms had been misappropriated to accommodate his gym and practice.’
‘Even before the renovation the house had a good feel to it,’ explains Gaby. ‘We got engaged here, we had our wedding on the tennis court – it held a lot of memories for us from the start.’ Going forward, the couple wanted a spacious three-bedroomed home that allowed for easy entertaining. Richard, a neurovascular osteopath, consults from home, so they needed to retain a separate office and fully equipped gym. ‘We both work hard,’ says Gaby, who is a corporate lawyer. ‘The idea was that of a calming getaway that we could retreat to. We like spending time at home and wanted to create pockets of spaces that we can use throughout the weekend.’
Gregory’s challenge was to introduce clean architectural lines within a much older framework. ‘Once we’d recognised the potential in the classical proportions and good rooms sizes, it was more about tweaking the space,’ he says. ‘I love New York-style lofts, and normally would have completely transformed the house into an open-plan design. On this project, it was more about creating a series of rooms and retaining the separate kitchen.’
To achieve the elegant, pared-down interior they were after, the couple consulted designer Mia Widlake of Studio 19. ‘We were fortunate to begin with a blank canvas and filled it with things that we love, things that are all interchangeable,’ says Gaby. Describing the brief as ‘fresh, modern and contemporary,’ Mia worked with simple forms and a restrained palette, customising many of the pieces and incorporating several items from Gaby’s previous flat. ‘Gaby and Richard are minimalists in the true sense of the word,’ she says. ‘It definitely makes things simpler when a couple’s tastes are aligned.’
Painting all the walls a stark gallery white created the crispness they favour – softened by pale grey linen curtains throughout. ‘We had a group Pinterest board where Gaby and Richard shared pictures from bathroom vanities to kitchen islands,’ adds Mia. ‘They were very clear on the feeling of simplicity and of using durable, timeless materials.’
Designing the kitchen from scratch, the team made optimal use of the generous rectangular floor plan. ‘We intentionally avoided an open-plan design, yet the kitchen connects well with the living area,’ explains Gaby. At one end, a spotless eat-in space overlooks the garden and a central island, designed by Mia, doubles up as bench seating. This is Richard’s domain, and he’s adept at producing highly nutritious, mouth-watering fare at a moment’s notice. On the opposite side, without as much as a fridge magnet on display, is an enviable U-shaped bank of oak cupboards.
Gaby and Richard have achieved a home that’s not only serenely luxurious, but utterly suited to their lifestyle. ‘Renovations don’t always work out the way you’d hope, but this project really exceeded our expectations,’ says Richard. ‘We’re very lucky that our family and lots of friends live close by. In summer all the doors are wide open and we entertain at a big harvest table overlooking the garden.’ Perhaps their one concession to chaos of any sort is Nunk, a delightful Swiss shepherd that Richard describes as the mud-slinger. ‘All we need is right here,’ says Gaby. ‘It’s got all the makings of happiness.’ Find out more at gregorykatz.co.za and studio19.co.za.
This article was originally published in HL's November 2016 issue.