Nordic But Nice

Ruan Vermeulen and Janine Mollentze’s Scandi-style apartment is steeped in simplicity

Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Photographs: Nick Gordon

Ruan Vermeulen has lived in Tamboerskloof ever since amicollective, the illustration company he started in his shared Stellenbosch digs, started growing. When the briefs started rolling in, he rented a Victorian semi here, turning the lounge into a studio with hot beds at the back for when the illustrators took breaks. When the company started making enough money to braai steak instead of boerewors, and he could afford to live in a place that wasn’t also his studio, Ruan moved to an apartment two roads down – a place he called home for six years.

When it came time to buy a place of his own, Ruan couldn’t think of any place he’d rather be than Tamboerskloof. He likes to walk to Checkers to grab his groceries, The Blue Café has been his morning coffee spot since the days when it was The Daily Deli and that burned-out hippie guy would be pumping trance music at 7am, and then there are all the bars that are within spitting distance. Not that he’s jolling that much any more, and instead ends most days at the dog park down the road with his cocker spaniel, Mymy.

Another change to Ruan’s lifestyle is that he’s living with a fiancé now, a girl whose touch can be seen throughout the flat. If you like clean lines, simple forms and functional furnishings, then you’ll love the modern zen-like feel that she’s created here. And just like their relationship, it took some time getting here…

“This place had badly laminated floors, cream walls, terrible melamine cupboards… but the minute I stepped onto the balcony I knew that I had to have it,” says Ruan. “At the showing I pulled the estate agent aside and told her that I’d take it. Which was a bit bullish, but I’m glad I did it.”

After stripping everything away, Ruan painted the walls white and the floors with a grey stoepverf, painted over the white tiles with black velvaglo and put up some untreated pine shelves. The tenets of Scandi style are solutions to problems: a light palette makes the most of the natural light, wood is a widely available resource, and there’s a simplification and decluttering of space.

“When we moved in, we had so much stuff,” says Janine. “Ruan had this massive collection of toys that I told him to chuck. Time to grow up.”

The result is something that could only come from an interior stylist like Janine, all monochrome tones and wood detail. However, it’s the views that really make the place: the kitchen leads onto the front balcony, with views of the city bowl, Table Mountain and all the way to the Helderberg. The back balcony is filled with plants and succulents and looks across a lush courtyard and up towards Lion’s Head.

Good fences make good neighbours, but apartment living means that you sometimes learn a bit more than what you would’ve usually bargained for. Like the heavy metal guy next door who hosts LAN gaming parties every weekend and has a penchant for black metal. Or that guy whos does yoga every morning. Naked.

“There are so many animals in this block,” says Ruan. “We’ve got Mymy and our cat Ozzie. Then there’s six other cats, three tortoises, a Haededa with a broken wing, two ducks… it’s like a farm in here. Bring your kids next time and I’ll charge you at the gate.”

At 85 square metres you can’t really have more than six people in the flat at a time - “Eight and it’s a party,” says Ruan. Still, you wouldn’t say that the space is as small as it is. Janine’s collections of sewing machines and alarm clocks are all carefully curated and grouped together, and the same goes for the books, plants and other odds and ends that the couple have on display. There’s also a clever use of mirrors to open up the rooms and floating shelves instead of cupboards, which make the most of the available space.

Marrying modernism with nature, focusing on natural materials like wood and leather, with a light colour scheme, contributes to the feeling of natural light – creating an illusion of space with a style characterised by functionality, simplicity and beauty.

The layout of the house means that the sun pours through the Juliet balcony every morning, likewise filling the kitchen and the breakfast nook, before gradually stretching over the house and then brightening the back balcony, lounge and dining areas at the end of the day.

Janine runs her company, Veltwerk (which specialises in leather backpacks, clutches and laptop bags) from home. This means that there are the added demands of that on the house.

The couple has also found that most of their time is spent in the kitchen. Because of this there are plans to rethink the current setup, extend the kitchen by a metre, put stacking doors in to invite the outside in even more, more storage solutions…

All of which will come. And that’s the beauty of owning a place – allowing it to grow with you.

Whether it’s the ubiquity of a certain large furniture chain, or the North’s approach to home décor suiting our lives down South just as well, whatever it is, Scandi style works, and if you want light, bright and airy then you could do far worse than follow Ruan and Janine’s lead and adopt some of the Scandinavian’s style secrets for yourself.