As far as townhouse complexes go, few can be more sought after than Walkways in Joburg’s Craighall Park. Designed by the iconic South African architect Michael Sutton and completed in the late 1970s, this suburban gem defies any retro pigeonholing, remaining resolutely timeless in the way of a genuine classic.
Interiors can be far less enduring, though, often seeming almost date-stamped with the trappings of a particular era. When the owner first saw this unit – a heady clash of terracotta tiles and blue paint – she knew that a substantial amount of work was in store. ‘At the time, I lived nearby and had always loved this complex. It is ahead of its time, and has set the benchmark for urban living. The challenge was definitely the interior, which was pure ʼ70s, plus decades of wear and tear. Fortunately, I had a very clear vision of what I wanted, so I put in a cheeky offer and moved in two months later,’ she says.
A long-time follower of Studio19’s work, the owner asked designers Mia Widlake and Debbie Votin to oversee the entire renovation. ‘My style has always been contemporary; I like clean lines and spaciousness, and I knew that the team would go all out to achieve that.’ Describing the project as a ‘complete and utter overhaul’, the owner moved out while the interior was gutted and pared back to its shell. ‘The original footprint was quite closed off,’ says Votin.
‘There was a separate kitchen and dining room, and the staircase was concealed behind a wall.’ On the plus side, a generous ground floor yielded sufficient space for a new open-plan layout: a roomy kitchen, dining and living space now flow towards a private walled garden. ‘We opened the whole space out, extending the kitchen southwards and the patio northwards,’ Votin explains. ‘Free of internal walls, it’s now one large, fluid space that has a fantastic indoor-outdoor connection.’
Together with the simple galley kitchen, the many bespoke furnishings and touches of granite and marble, the result is a bit like a sleek Milanese apartment.
Upstairs revealed a combination of three small, dark bedrooms and two bathrooms. ‘The original bathrooms were placed on either side of a light channel, so while they were well lit, there was very little light anywhere else,’ says Votin. Retaining the existing clerestory windows, the team created an enormous bedroom suite, adding a single spacious bathroom to one side. Morning light now floods into the space, providing the sense of airy openness that the owner craves. Dividing the two areas is a generous study, its curated gallery walls reflecting her love of art.
Mindful of the building’s unfussy aesthetic, the owner envisioned a clean-lined home that complemented the exterior architecture.
‘It’s also very much about a feeling of calm, a sense of flow that draws you towards the outdoors,’ she says. ‘My working hours are spent in a high-pressure corporate environment. It’s stimulus overdrive, and when I get home, I need an atmosphere of peace and serenity.’
The understated palette of pale greys and charcoal add substantially to the stillness. Throughout the ground floor, ceramic tiles have the look of cool, pewter-toned stone; muted rugs add texture and delicate, restrained pattern. Accent walls appear inky black or grey-green, depending on the light. Together with the simple galley kitchen, the many bespoke furnishings and touches of granite and marble, the result is a bit like a sleek Milanese apartment, albeit with rather more space.
This new, unfettered flow has provided sufficient room for the owner to practise yoga and meditation. It’s also ideal for entertaining, with plenty of seating inside and out. ‘I love having friends over. We open up the patio doors and it becomes one wonderful integrated space,’ she says. But it’s the upstairs suite, with its light-filled sense of luxe, that is her true sanctuary. ‘I can really breathe up here and it’s where I go into a more creative space. It’s personal, peaceful and very much “home”.’