Next level

Next level

Elelgant, airy and low maintenance, urban apartments tick all the boxes for sophisticated modern living. By Tess Paterson


There’s an undeniable sense of cool that accompanies a contemporary city apartment. For starters, there’s the freedom that comes from being suspended above the fray in your own private eyrie, yet just a short Uber ride away from the bread-and-milk run. It’s pretty much lock-up-and-go, so you’re neither fretting about the garden nor keeping an eye on the pool. In Cape Town’s City Bowl, high-rises may offer up a glimpse of Lion’s Head; in Joburg’s Newtown precinct, it’s the gritty cityscape of railway tracks and distant mine dumps. Either way, it’s about waking up to dramatic views, with a neighbourhood community right on your doorstep. And, if you plan it right, you could shelve the commute and simply walk to work.

‘Joburg, in particular, is undergoing enormous densification,’ says architect Gregory Katz. ‘As a result, it’s going vertical and space has become the ultimate luxury.’ The challenge then, lies in making the very most of any apartment’s potential footprint. Katz, who has first-hand experience of living in loft apartments in New York, has long been inspired by their inherently overscaled proportions. ‘The term “loft” is often misused though,’ he explains, ‘particularly here in SA. The true NYC lofts are converted industrial spaces, originally designed on a grid to accommodate trucks and warehousing. They were never designed to the human scale, but were generous enough to convert to domestic use. What’s so interesting is that they present a completely blank canvas – a spaciousness not obtainable anywhere else in the city.’

On a smaller scale, loft-inspired or studio apartments can still offer workable open-plan solutions. ‘The problem with designated rooms is that you lose a lot of space to corridors,’ says Katz ‘and, the smaller the apartment, the less you can afford to lose that space. On the other hand, just removing all of the internal walls with the aim of transforming the space is overly simplistic. The ideal is to create a sense of intimacy while maintaining the spatial flow.’


There are, of course, various non-structural ways to enhance the feeling of openness in an apartment. ‘Plenty of natural light, ribbon windows and timber floors all complement this pared-down aesthetic,’ suggests Katz. ‘Areas can also be visually designated by something as simple as a rug, or by the optimal placement of furniture.’

While generous picture windows may be a wonderful attribute, it is also worth considering how best to control the light you let in to your living space. Ditto the important issue of privacy, especially if you overlook a neighbouring block. To really make the most of high ceilings (or to visually heighten low ones), floor-to-ceiling sheer curtains are an ideal solution.

‘Sheer fabrics provide a soft, breezy look that’s well suited to living rooms and bedrooms,’ says Marc Shotland of Home Fabrics. ‘Not only is the look elegant and sophisticated, but, practically, they make it difficult to see into the space from the outside.’ For winter evenings, or if you need a bit of proper cocooning, Shotland suggests hanging a block-out lining on a separate rod behind the sheers

‘Linen sheers in a neutral colour will ensure that you don’t detract from the sense of openness,’ adds Sally Ives of The Silk and Cotton Co. ‘An iron rod with a simple curtain treatment is really effective, and I find it’s best to have curtains that are not too full.’

Against this quietly dramatic backdrop, up the ante with some knockout lighting – perhaps an oversized light-bulb pendant or a few beautiful table lamps to create zones of golden light.

To help scale down one large uniform space, try indoor plants as natural room dividers. A pair of tall bamboo palms, for instance, will create a sense of symmetry while adding some serious ’70s sun-room chic. House plants such as Boston ferns, peace lilies or orchids add graphic shapes and welcome greenery.

In keeping with the mod simplicity, glass accents are a good way to add a bit of glamour and sheen. Try grouping vases or cloches of differing heights for impact.


One of the big positives about open-plan apartments is their inherent flexibility. Smaller spaces needn’t be limiting – with some savvy planning, you can choose furniture that will make the most of your space. A generous dining room table, for instance, can double as a nifty desk for your home office; wall-mounted bookshelves will keep floor space free; a retro server might do after-hours duty as a sleek bar countertop. These are the spaces that castors were created for; when friends drop in unexpectedly, you can simply roll your furniture about to improve the flow.

Lightweight ottomans are the most versatile accessories and, together with slouchy Moroccan-style pouffes, can serve as both mobile seating and comfy footstools. In keeping with the move towards small-space living, stores such as Parkhurst’s Mødernist are creating gorgeous two-seater sofas that deliver Scandi refinement with compact, manageable dimensions.

Overall, this urban aesthetic is inherently unfussy, so it will help to keep your collection of tchotchkes under control. Tidy away your extraneous things (or better still, donate anything you no longer need). There’s nothing like a clutter-free space to instil a feeling of calm.

Mirrors are a wonderful way to make a smaller space appear more generous and reflect natural light. In the spirit of the original lofts, choose ones with industrial steel- framed designs.


When it comes to urban interiors, neutral tones just seem to work. ‘On the whole, a plain fabric in an understated palette will do more for an urban aesthetic than a pattern will,’ says Shotland. ‘Also, curtaining can take up substantial meterage, so from a costing point of view it makes sense to avoid high-trend colours.’ Where spaces are on the small side, Shotland recommends keeping fabric choices simple. ‘Textured linens in grey, taupe and black are sophisticated and offset accent colours beautifully. And, for accessible sheers, Home Fabrics’ Skyline and Pure Linen collections offer numerous options.’

‘Adding different textures will bring depth and interest to a contemporary urban look,’ says Ives. ‘Introducing a strong pattern on accent pieces such as cushions and rugs just makes the space pop.’ She adds that it’s important to create a distinct sense of character, making sure things are not overly matched. ‘I love a few accents of leather and contemporary tribal fabrics for this look. Mixing up geometrics with chunky weaves, for example, will add edge and avoid being too decorated or contrived.’

Shotland agrees, explaining that hits of bold pattern allow you to get creative and remodel within a relatively neutral space. ‘Tribal designs, such as the Navajo collection from Clarke & Clarke, have some beautiful woven textures in earthy colours. They’re a perfect foil for this pared-down urban look.’

But, perhaps the greatest feature in a loft-like retreat is a beautiful timber floor. Glossy parquet is first prize, reminiscent of so many 1950s Hillbrow flats. Strip floors in Oregon pine have a lovely warmth. Or, if you’re more Paris than Jozi (or simply armed with a handsome budget), oak floors set in a herringbone pattern will make a timeless statement.

Styling: Francoise Jeanne De Villiers; Photography: Kendall-Leigh Nash/; Stockists:,,,,,,

Article written by