MAKEOVER | This dingy student digs is now a light, bright family home

A thoughtful renovation by the Bone Studio team not only dramatically changed the look of this Cape home, but its energy too

09 October 2020 - 00:00 By Leana Schoeman and Toni Jaye Singer
After a dramatic renovation, the interiors of this Newlands home have an expansive, art gallery-like look and feel.
After a dramatic renovation, the interiors of this Newlands home have an expansive, art gallery-like look and feel.
Image: Bone Studio

“The claustrophobia of student sweat and dirty socks” greeted interior designers Hayley Turner and Nicola Orpen of Bone Studio, when they first visited this 1980s house in Newlands, Cape Town.

Having been a student digs for more than two decades, the dark, dingy and dated face-brick property required major structural changes to turn it into a “forever family home” for their clients, a young professional couple.

After a major renovation, the house is almost unrecognisable, with a new contemporary, open-plan layout and an expansive, art gallery-like look and feel.

Orpen talks us through the transformation and shares some clever design tips:

What was the brief from your clients?

Their only priorities were open-plan living, security and an external braai area. There was also a cottage on the property that needed a refurb so it could be let out. 

They were extremely easy in their brief with no specific aesthetic requirements — they trusted our ability and our eye for design. [It’s amazing] what you are able to achieve when you have a client’s trust!

What was your vision for this home?

Our clients are extremely sociable people. We wanted to create a space in which they could entertain freely, which is why we broke through walls to connect the heart of the home, the kitchen, to the living and dining areas, as well as to the outdoor entertaining area through stackable glass doors.

This extremely dark house needed a new light, bright life so we felt pulled towards a clean and full-free aesthetic. We gravitated towards soft timbers, white cabinetry, and simple contemporary fixtures, while bringing in loads of natural light with the addition of new full-height windows.

Being in leafy green Newlands, these windows also maximised the setting, including the impressive mountain scape.

What were some of the challenges you faced in transforming this home?

The main challenge was working with the clients’ budget constraints. We focused on making structural changes that would add value to the home.

There was no excess money for lavish trimmings or even new furniture, so we kept the look honest and authentic with quality finishes, while embracing elements that gave the house its original character such as the timber beams and textured brick walls.

The master bathroom has a special luxury feel as does the dressing area, says designer Nicola Orpen.
AFTER The master bathroom has a special luxury feel as does the dressing area, says designer Nicola Orpen.
Image: Bone Studio
A closer look at the luxurious finishes and fixtures in the master bathroom.
AFTER A closer look at the luxurious finishes and fixtures in the master bathroom.
Image: Bone Studio
'I love the concept of the guest toilet having a wild personality in contrast to the more mature character of the rest of the home,’ says designer Nicola Orpen.
AFTER 'I love the concept of the guest toilet having a wild personality in contrast to the more mature character of the rest of the home,’ says designer Nicola Orpen.
Image: Bone Studio

We also had to work out how to maximise dead spaces such as the attic and storerooms. By lifting and extending roof structures we were able to [reclaim this wasted space and turn it into] bathrooms and staircases — this was a huge challenge, but so rewarding.

Your favourite thing about the revamped property?

For me, the triumph is the overall dramatic change in energy. The house initially had a dark, heavy feel. It’s now so much lighter and feels more connected to the mountains and surrounding leafy vitality [of the suburb].

What are some of the best design tips we can steal from this renovation?

Any way you can bring the outside in is an instant soul lift. If you don’t want to commit to making structural changes like installing bigger windows and stackable glass doors as we did here, another option is to use large mirrors to reflect any lush greenery you have in your outdoor space.

A simple trick to create a high-end designer aesthetic is to skim in pendant light cords to avoid the visual cup fitting on the ceiling — this results in a more sophisticated look.

Note how the cords of these pendant lights have been skimmed into the ceiling.
AFTER Note how the cords of these pendant lights have been skimmed into the ceiling.
Image: Bone Studio
The home's original timber ceiling beams have been completely transformed with a lick of paint.
AFTER The home's original timber ceiling beams have been completely transformed with a lick of paint.
Image: Bone Studio

If you have face-brick walls and hate the retro feel they give, there is no need to spend money on skimming: a simple bag wash and coat of paint instantly modernises the finish while retaining the texture.

Texture is so important in adding warmth and interest to a design, so learning how to modernise existing claddings, beams and mouldings will save a lot of money and add more personality to your home. Here, we simply painted the heavy timber ceiling beams white.

When it comes to window treatments, always use a wave track and fit it to the underside of the ceiling instead of above your door/window openings. This visually lifts the ceiling height and adds a sense of modernity to any space.