Small Spaces, Big Ideas

Four homeowners share their tips on how they've maximised their spaces

Small Spaces, Big Ideas

Words: Julia Freemantle | Photography: Karl Rogers

Small dimensions often serve as inspiration for smart solutions. Through their savvy use of space, materials and proportions, four homeowners have maximised their corners of the world.

As populations grow and available space shrinks, or simply because people choose to live lower-maintenance lock-up-and-go lives, small space design is becoming hot property. Being able to make the most of a small footprint without sacrificing personality or quality of lifestyle is the holy grail of compact urban-living, and these people are getting it spot on.

Nyiko Chauke

Small Spaces, Big Ideas

Drivelines, in Maboneng, is the newest residential project from property mavericks, Propertuity, and it’s the next frontier in affordable housing. A rental-only development, the units come in compact but well-designed 30 and 45-square-metre options, accessible to a younger market that wants to live in a vibrant urban centre. As marketing manager for the company, Nyiko is passionate about what this new space means for and within city spaces.

"Maboneng is all about being part of an urban neighbourhood. These apartments extend that philosophy – Drivelines is about lock up-and-go convenience within an exciting community, which is also close to shops, restaurants and workplaces."

Small Spaces, Big Ideas

Designed by US-based architects LOT-EK, the design emphasises the origins of the materials rather than hiding them – wooden floors from the original container and corrugated iron walls – which is a refreshing industrial aesthetic that fits in perfectly with the gritty realness of the area. 

"The aim of these apartments was to creatively get the most out of a compact space, through well-designed, open-plan living," 

Cleverly-designed, built-in furniture with slim proportions, that is also adaptable and dual purpose, is the key to having enough space in the units. 

"Features like doors that slide sideways rather than opening out and a wall divider that also doubles up as store – these are the things that make it possible to live easily in a smaller space," adds Nyiko.

Aparna Ramani

Aparna Ramani

Currently a designer but having cut her teeth in interiors working with architects Silvio and Lesley Rech, Aparna Ramani, recently started her own outfit, Design Republic, with business partner, Taryn Kallie. She bought her apartment in Killarney six years ago. An older suburb, it’s known for its big and gracious blocks, many of them pulling Art Deco inspiration. 

"I always liked Killarney – for its location, but the diversity of people too. It feels a bit frozen in time and yet young blood move in daily."

Although she loved that her place was an older apartment, she has made some effective changes that make it feel much more spacious. 

"The first thing I did was to break down the walls that separated the tiny kitchen from the rest of the living space. I also blocked up the 'servants' entrance – standard in Apartheid era apartments – although I cheekily wanted to make that the front door."

The décor mix, like the suburb itself, is about diversity.

"This is the first place I’ve ever owned. I wanted a home of pleasure and peace, where every item would bring me joy."

Small Spaces, Big Ideas

By not using too much furniture, most of which is easy to move, she’s created a flexible space that reacts well to change. Features like a room divider, which is also a shelving unit, and the black-painted walls that show off the space’s artwork are small but impactful details. The curtains too, a soft warm-grey linen, are hung as high as possible, making the ceiling feel even higher.

"My brother owns MØDERNIST and I recently purchased six 1960s Danish Farstrup dining chairs to add to my slowly growing mid-century furniture collection. Although I am a minimalist in theory I’m drawn to objects with history." 

From glasses that belonged to her mother to a growing South African art gallery on the wall, as well as the mid-century furniture collection – the rules in this no-rules space is that every piece has personality.

Hayleigh Evans

Hayleigh Evans

Owner of the POPArt Theatre in Main Street Life in Maboneng, Hayleigh Evans bought her apartment in the Revolution House development off-plan nearly six years ago. Now, with the area having grown in popularity and developed exponentially, it’s turned out to be a really smart move. 

Best of all, her space gives her that ideal inner-city convenience of living a stone’s throw from where she works. 

"As a theatre, we work a lot of late nights and are often on call early in the morning or at the drop of a hat, so it was important to find a space close by that I also felt safe commuting to and from."

Being a studio apartment meant that visitors had to walk through the bedroom to get outside to the balcony and enjoy the view. Ultimately she wanted to keep this space more private, and so came up with a different way to configure the space – scaffolding. 

A surprisingly cost-effective solution, the structure and set of stairs, once inserted, created a whole new mezzanine. It was an answer that made the most of the 4.5m ceilings and essentially increased her square metreage by half. 

"They were a bit of a happy accident. I came to check in while the apartment was still under construction and there was scaffolding in the space, and I thought… Oh, that works!"

She also devised her own walk-in wardrobe, two sets of shelves built parallel to one another, and still wants to add some blinds around the bedroom loft to screen it off. 

"The great thing about loft areas is that the design doesn't have to be fixed."

Tristan du Plessis

Small Spaces, Big Ideas

Founder of Studio A Interiors, Tristan’s aesthetic has always leaned towards the ultra-contemporary with a luxurious twist and a sense of playfulness. For his own home in Milpark, a multi-level space he’s been renovating over the last few years (he claims it’s still not finished, perfectionist that he is), he’s used a mix of edgy and sumptuous textures with contemporary and timeless pieces to create the ultimate city bachelor pad. 

His rooftop space is a surprising culmination of a few flights of stairs. As you come up through a glass atrium from the darker, more moody palette of the spaces below, you’re treated to a furnished green terrace with views spanning the suburb. The greenery comes by way of the most lifelike astroturf you can imagine – a perfect low-maintenance fix for someone who travels as much as he does – and a scattering of trees below.  

"I wanted a relaxed area where I can hang out with friends at the end of the day and have a few drinks." 

Chosen to maximise the slightly awkward space he had to work with (it has an irregular shape being atop an apartment block), the pieces fulfil set functions within different alcoves: a round, concrete table and mismatched designer chairs for dining, a bar area for when guests are over and even an outdoor shower, you know, for showering. 

Echoing his always-urban aesthetic, a mural by Skullboy provides the centrepiece of the space and a striking backdrop to a pair of sunloungers. 

"I convinced the artist to spare a day or two for this piece when he was out from New York." 

It’s a reminder we’re in a city home and an ingenious way of incorporating art outdoors. 

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