design, houses, Renovations, small spaces

Lessons in working with a small space

Elsa Young; Supplied


In this once-pokey Tamboerskloof apartment, Cape Town-based interior designer John Jacob Zwiegelaar moulds a light, sophisticated abode out of a small space by balancing the scales of science and art. We asked his top tips for updating a small space.

Tasked with turning a small, dark, personality-less apartment in Tamboerskloof into a sophisticated city pad with modern finishes, Zwiegelaar had to start with two key challenges: proportion and outlook. 'I believe that before you even add a drop of furniture, you have to get the space to work,' the acclaimed interior designer and founder of John Jacob Interiors notes. 'It's not actually about the things inside, but the architectural details, the proportions and the views.' Zwiegelaar wanted to maximise the surrounding verdant suburban vistas – and create a perception of capaciousness when low on square meterage – so he had to employ some clever visual hacks, and these before and after images are testament to their effect.

playing with proportion

Bathroom before
Bathroom after renovation

Whether it's down to time, budget or rigid property restrictions, it's not always possible to eschew a tiny window for a floor-to-ceiling glass sheet. To create a sense of airiness in this transformation, John played with scale. 'The door and window proportions were weak and low,' he explains. 'And a small window is a dead giveaway of room's actual size. What we did was create a recess in the wall to install a full-length shutter.' The result is a clever trick in perception that seems to elevate the ceiling, enhancing the sensation of height. Size juxtaposition is a motif in the home's design, whether it's the large artwork in the entrance hall that looks even grander against the small mirror opposite, or the complementary objets d'art peppered throughout. 'What I love about smaller spaces is that the furniture pieces become architectural shapes that affect the perception of volume.'

shifting perspective

Living room before
John Jacob Zwiegelaar in his living room after renovation

'Bringing the outdoors in' has become something of a necessary clause in any modern renovation, but in the case of a city apartment, it's not always that easy. Not that the team at John Jacob Interiors was intimidated. 'Because the space is so small,' Zwiegelaar says, 'it's important that the owners have a view, so we created an opening in the wall between the bedroom and the living room and closed it off with shutters.' This seemingly simple alteration treated the homeowners to a much more generous vista of the outer realms from the bed – the perfect view with a morning cuppa – and gives them the option to cordon off the bedroom when entertaining.