Small Space Big Style

A creative couple share their home truths with us

Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Photographs: Nick Gordon

Netflix, the newest addition to Natalie Roos and Keenan Mulvaney’s home, had his shots yesterday so today he’s chill. Babycat not so much…

When you’re in a space that’s just 65m2, it’s possible to watch both Netflix riding out his meds on the couch, as well as Babycat trying to squeeze through a gap in the window.

Where the young couple’s home lacks in size, it makes up for in heart, with carefully selected pieces, great art and clever personal touches. This is the first time that 27-year old Natalie and Keenan have lived together, and they decided on buying a place after experiencing Cape Town’s ugly rental scene.

“We were looking for places to rent and ended up at a showing in Woodstock just off Salisbury street,” says Keenan. “Even though we arrived early there were already 30 people in the queue.”

“We knew what the process was like,” adds Natalie. “So we ran in with our application forms, bank statements, proof of income and every other document you could possibly need – signed and ready. We didn’t even look around! We walked straight up to the agent, handed her the forms and told her that we’d take it. And she said, ‘Sorry, someone else has already taken it.’ HOW?! It’s cut-throat. Ruthless.”

Everything worked out though, because two weeks later while going for coffee at the Woodstock Exchange, they saw a sign on a new development at a price that they could afford. Well that price wasn’t the real price, but they still ended up getting a bond for around what they would’ve paid on rent, with a low, fixed, interest rate, too. And now they’re homeowners!

And because the young couple travels so much (a week before our interview they were in Australia, next they’ll visit Bali), they’ve signed up to Airbnb and are in the fortunate position where a one-month rental takes two months off their bond.

“It’s been interesting… ” Says Natalie, sugar-coating their Airbnb experience. “Going forward we’ll vet people more, because we can actually only accommodate real travellers. This is not an area that’s for everyone. We had someone from Joburg’s Northern suburbs come down for "the chess," which he referred to like it was the Rugby World Cup tournament – "I’m coming down for the chess" – and when he arrived he said that there’s no way that he could stay at our place. That driving through this neighborhood had psychologically affected his daughter who needs to play against CHESS CHAMPIONS! So no more suburban dads coming to Cape Town for the chess, thanks.”

Part of the Woodstock Urban Renewal Zone, Natalie and Keenan’s studio apartment is just one of several buildings that have been re-developed for creative types looking to live and work near the city. The developers like to use phrases like ‘creative hub’, and despite this it’s pretty cool living within walking distance to the Woodstock Exchange and the Biscuit Mill and all the creative types who have flocked here. And, sure, gentrification gets a bad wrap, but looking around it’s only done good for the area, where buildings and infrastructure are being updated, fresh new businesses are popping up and long-time homeowners have the option to sell their dilapidated properties for far more than what they’re worth. Look around and you’ll see that there’s finally investment in what was, for a long time, a forgotten blemish on the city. Young urban professionals like Keenan and Natalie are breathing new life into the area.

Living here has changed the couple’s outlook on what a home actually means, and they’ve had to be very smart with their 65m2 footprint. There are no cupboards because these would take up too much space, and so a friend built them good-looking clothing rails. Then there are shelves from the same laminated pine that they used to separate the bedroom from the lounge. And because they bought an empty shell, and had to create everything from scratch, they’ve built a fantastic relationship with their builders, where they’re now pretty good friends with them, have made them a website and get them in regularly to put up more shelving and brackets and things.

“I’m kind of obsessed with the tiny house movement now,” says Natalie. “I watched a documentary on Netflix called Tiny, which follows this guy who wants to build his own tiny mobile home and documents a whole lot of homes around America where the owners have decided on living small.”

Keenan got rid of half of his stuff before moving in here and has learned to work differently now that he’s replaced his desk with his lap. Do they miss the things that they used to surround themselves with? Natalie doesn’t.

“If I don’t see it I don’t think of it. I got rid of seven black bags full of clothes and I’ve never once thought about that one ugly handbag I had in Standard 7. I was actually going to pay for storage and Keenan convinced me otherwise. He was really ruthless with my stuff. Even though he’s still got a briefcase of love letters from high school. I suppose I’m lucky – I hate everyone I ever dated.”

What Natalie has fallen in love with all over again is TV. Having cut her teeth presenting on our channel of friends, KTV, she’s now back on the box with Ruil My Styl, which, if you’ll bear with me, “gebruik die blogger en stylkenner om een gelukkige persoon se klerekas nume lewe te gee.”

“The show is kind of based on my blog and is for Afrikaans people who don’t watch kykNET. It’s basically filling the void that MK left. It’s a wardrobe makeover show where I meet with a girl for a Skype consultation, they show me their wardrobe and tell me what they’d like, and then I shop online for them. One thing that everyone has said is that they’re scared to shop online, which I’m amazed at because it’s the only shopping that I do. Don’t ever look at yourself in a dressing room mirror, especially when bikini shopping, because those things make you look like a bag filled with cottage cheese and you’ll never want to go on holiday ever again. Rather go online, order a bunch of stuff, invite a friend over, have some wine, and then whatever you and your friend like you keep and the rest you send back.”

Constantly seeking new ways to live her best life, and then sharing these tips with her audience, Natalie has managed to blur the lines between her work and home life. With an equally creative partner by her side, the couple epitomises modern inner-city living and are proof that with a little bit of imagination, you can lead very big lives in the smallest of spaces.

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Natalie’s small space tips

1. It can be hard decorating a studio space. Keep the colour palate neutral, with pops of a single colour throughout. This will help to keep the space from feeling too cluttered and the uniformity of the bright colour will pull the house together.

2. Scandinavian furniture is a good option for small spaces. Its slim design will help save space and it looks beautiful.

3. Do it yourself. It can be hard to find affordable pieces that work for your small space, so make it yourself. We’ve spent countless hours and rands at Builders Warehouse and we’ve made a lot of the stuff around the house with help from our trusty handymen Clement and Tsepo. Things like wall units, which can be pricey, hard to find and big, can be replaced with a few brackets and a couple of pieces of laminated pine.

4. Plants bring life, colour and decoration into the home and they make you feel so happy. We take ours outside for watering and a bit of air once a week and they repay us with endless beauty. Delicious monsters grow well inside and so do ferns.

5. Get rid of stuff. It can be hard but I promise you, once you’ve given it away you’ll never think about it ever again. I’ve gotten rid of more than eight black bags full of clothes and shoes and we have given away loads of stuff we thought we needed, simply because we didn’t have space for it. And you know what, I can’t even remember what it was because I never even needed it in the first place.