A Joburg Apartment Reflects the Bold Glamour of the City of Gold
The Killarney apartment of interior designer Michele Throssell reflects her love of heritage and the bold glamour of Johannesburg.
Michele Throssell – of the eponymous interior design company – and her husband, Bruce, fell in love with, bought and renovated a three-bedroom flat in Killarney, one of Johannesburg’s original apartment suburbs.
Located in the highly sought-after Rapallo building, the apartment is an ode to art, retro design and vintage and romantic sensibilities. It almost feels like an extension of the Rapallo itself, which was built in the 1950s by Italian prisoners of war and features an original Art Deco water installation and Picasso-inspired oil painting by Armando Baldinelli in the entrance hall. It’s not surprising that the building immediately attracted Michele, and they secured a corner apartment with gorgeous views overlooking Johannesburg.
While Michele is mostly based in Durban, Bruce, who is in financial services, and their son James, who works as a lawyer, both live in Johannesburg. They acquired the apartment so they could have a permanent Johannesburg family home base – Michele visits once a month for a night or two or the odd weekend. Her other children, Joseph and Rebecca, both work in interior design and live in Cape Town.
The renovation project took just six months to complete, and brings the bold glamour so often epitomised by Johannesburg from the city streets to the apartment's interiors. Michele has managed to make the interiors feel open and expansive by knocking down walls and installing mirrors and clever storage solutions, perhaps most impressively in the kitchen.
The room, which was originally cramped and walled in, spills out and feels extended by a custom-made bar – complete with brass fittings, glass shelving and mirrors. ‘I like the idea of mixing a lot of texture, combining marble, stone and brass with wicker,’ says Michele.
This can be seen in a large kitchen cupboard she designed and had custom-made by her joiner. It features wooden drawers and rattan cabinet doors that neatly conceal stacked crockery and a tea-and-coffee station. Appliances such as the washing machine, dryer and bin are all tucked away in cupboards with sliding drawers, and a large, full-gas stainless steel cooker by Smeg is where James does most of the cooking.
Handmade green tiles on the kitchen walls create a warm, homely feel, while Nero Marquina marble countertops and brass kickplates provide a luxurious, contemporary aesthetic, all offset by moulded terrazzo tiles.
‘Because I live at the coast, it’s very light and airy, so I wanted a moody contrast with all the greens and dark. I like bold glamour mixed with a little retro,’ Michele says. To the right of the kitchen, a steel and marble table that Michele eventually had designed and commissioned after fruitless searches for an appropriate surface, is a space used by ‘the boys’ when they work on their laptops, charge their devices and eat meals.
But perhaps the most striking feature of the home is the living area’s flamingo wallpaper from Home Fabrics, which adds a characterful feel that flows through the entire apartment. ‘I love pattern and I love colour,’ says Michele. ‘I’m not afraid to mix patterns and use bold hues.’
Michele is also a lover of antique shows and fairs, so much of the apartment’s furnishings were sourced from Westgate Walding Auctioneers, 5th Avenue Auctioneers in Johannesburg and Dales Bros in Durban. Some of the home’s most alluring decor and art elements are items that she has collected and brought out of long-time storage specifically for this space, and many of them have been repurposed and painted in blues, greys, greens, yellows and oranges.
Ultra-modern light fittings from the now-defunct Con Amore draw attention to the new ceiling mouldings and illuminate a large framed painting of a great blue heron from African Sketchbook in the living area, which hangs above a green custom-made couch and picks up on the blue hues present in a vignette of glass vessels from Decade.
The previously reddish parquet flooring is now dark brown and polished, integrating beautifully with the moody interiors.
‘I wanted the apartment to feel a little like old Johannesburg,’ says Michele – and it’s a feeling she has captured perfectly.