Contrast Abounds in this Umhlanga Home

Bold, modern design sits comfortably alongside tactile texture and personal touches.

Karl Rogers


A copper-clad wall makes a striking statement in the living area of this family home in Umhlanga, KwaZulu-Natal, where changes in levels of the floor and ceiling demarcate zones in the open-plan space. The light fitting was made by Morgan Associates and designed by Ruth Duke of Ruth Duke Interior Design, who was instrumental in updating the house.

This KwaZulu-Natal house is all about contrast. The first thing that strikes you is the juxtaposition of graphic lines and organic curves, followed by thoroughly contemporary monochromatic motifs that mingle with textured, natural elements and the surrounding vegetation. The overall effect has a simultaneously modern and inviting feel.

Architect Kevin Lloyd and interior designer Clinton Savage designed the home in collaboration with its owners some years ago, and the result is a house rich in architectural detail that features unexpected materials such as copper and concrete on the walls, and eye-catching timber details both indoors and out. Light and space were priorities, and high ceilings and expansive doors, which tuck away completely, create an airy atmosphere. ‘Recently, we decided that some elements needed an update and we called on Ruth Duke of Ruth Duke Interior Design to work her magic,’ say the homeowners. ‘Colour and lighting were crucial to the brief, and we wanted to add detail and evolve the existing base.’

Sleek geometric lines contrast with an organic, textured timber backsplash in the kitchen, where a dining table and chairs from Okha provide a convenient spot for the family to gather.

Duke began by assessing the way in which the family’s needs have changed since they originally designed their abode. ‘The three children have grown up, so we could change the functionality of spaces as well as add some texture and depth to give it a reboot,’ she says. ‘The homeowners both have a highly attuned sense of design and style, and they travel extensively. They know exactly what they want, so it was a great collaboration.’

Although the living area is open plan, it is cleverly demarcated into distinct zones with changes in the levels of floor and ceiling. While designing it, the homeowners carefully considered how they would live in the house, and a kitchen table where the family and guests could gather while meals were prepared was a must – as was a cosy TV room. ‘The wallpaper of family moments in here is special and personal,’ the homeowners say, demonstrating that style and sentiment don’t always need to be mutually exclusive.

It was important for the homeowners that the abode had a seamless indoor-outdoor flow, so smart design choices were employed to achieve this. In the living room, for example, the backs of the custom-made sofas upholstered in Ivory Slubby Linen from St Leger & Viney were kept low so as not to interrupt the sea views. Attention to detail is key and the concrete on the veranda ceiling was both a functional and aesthetic choice. This industrial feel is mirrored inside in the form of a standing lamp from Cécile & Boyd.

‘The furniture in the living area is classic South African contemporary modern,’ says Duke. ‘The pieces are tonally neutral with the odd bit of colour, and accessories and soft furnishings are kept to a minimum to allow the furniture to make a statement.’ The interiors blend seamlessly into the outdoor zones, where timber screens and pergolas create intriguing patterns against the backdrop of sea and sky.

A bar and dining area lead on to a concrete daybed, which invites repose next to the pool. ‘I am, in my soul, a gardener,’ says Duke, who updated the outdoor space by adding planters, reupholstered cushions and new accessories. ‘We also planted a Erythrina latissima, or coral tree, to create a focal point on the perfectly flat front lawn,’ she says. Reflective surfaces inside beckon the outdoors in, with mirrors echoing the greenery and sunlight bouncing off copper wall panels.

Timber and concrete have been fashioned into durable yet stylish seating and shading alongside the pool, and the geometric shapes create dynamic accent points in the outdoor spaces.

The house is just as visually stimulating at night, with considered lighting used to great effect. ‘We love the outdoor lights, which are located in columns of small stones that produce a lovely filtered effect while appearing very earthy in the daylight,’ say the homeowners. The interior light fixtures are also as attractive during the day as they are lit up after dark. Presiding above the dining room table is a collection of tubular steel rods finished with rounded bulbs that Duke designed and had manufactured by Morgan Associates, while a gilded lattice fitting from Cobinlight beautifully illuminates the kitchen table.

It is clear that the homeowners have an appreciation for art, andstandout pieces by Olga du Toit and Leila Jeffreys bring much of the colour to the space. They have also selected items of furniture by top South African designers such as Egg DesignsOkhaand Wiid Designt hat hold their own in the bold rooms.

A teal wall ensures that another artwork by Du Toit is a prominent feature in the lounge, which includes an occasional chair from Okha. On the veranda is a bench by Wiid Design.

Upstairs, the main bedroom and bathroom have been conceptualised with simplicity as the guiding principle, allowing the views of the rooftop garden and the sea to star. Neutral colours and natural textures create a tranquil hideaway where Duke has added stylish touches including patterned scatter cushions, jewel-toned glassware and a cluster of copper pendants in place of a traditional lamp.

It is Duke’s deft touch at layering interesting details like these that ensures that, although sleek and modern in many respects, this contemporary house remains a welcoming home.

The main shower opens onto an outdoor courtyard, where a steam room and hot tub give the space a resort-like feel.

Our rooftop garden attracts sunbirds, and we love to watch them against the backdrop of the sea view,’ say the homeowners. In their bedroom you’ll find a custom-made headboard, a woven bench from Okha and a rug from Gonsenhausers Fine Rugs.

Large and airy, the main bathroom is separated from the bedroom and dressing area with a timber screen that lets in natural light from both sides.