In a world that is so consumed with the future, we often forget to look back and appreciate the past, but this was certainly not the case for interior designer Donald Nxumalo and his team when they purchased this heritage home nestled in the oldest part of Johannesburg. The idea was to create a contemporary studio space that clients felt at home with, while still merging Donald’s heritage with that of the building, thereby focusing on restoration, preservation and refurbishment.
The purchase came along when it was time for Donald to expand his business after growing and realising what sort of a designer he wanted to be. It wasn’t about selling products any longer as a showroom, but more about creating a studio, leaving behind Kramerville for the suburban Parktown instead.
Donald mentions 'I was actually in the area viewing the house next door when I peeped through the palisade fencing of this place and thought to myself, that’s it right there. I wanted something less dramatic and to create a destination for my clients.'
The garden area of this 1930s home was part of what initially attracted Donald to the space, along with the original chimneys and its old-world charm. 'While the house is heritage, one could ask themselves, whose heritage? So in coming here, we were able to influence and imbue our own heritage as a company and as myself, Donald Nxumalo, to put my own stamp on what heritage means to me. The point of departure was to have the two points of heritage living side by side,' mentions Donald.
Donald enlisted the help of his dear friend Joe van Rooyen of JVR Architects to assist with the project that took roughly a year to complete. Being a heritage space meant there were many restrictions to work within, but this didn’t stop the team from pushing the limit of what can and can’t be done.
'With this home, it was about inheriting the space and stripping back the layers of whatever was there before, allowing the house to unfold before us,' says Donald. 'For one, the Dutch bricks surrounding the fireplace were stripped away of their paint. We intentionally left flicks of paint behind when cleaning, to represent the many decades and different owners who haveinhabited this space. What we did around these bricks was install our modern fireplace mantle to update it and add in our current, contemporary style,' says Donald.
Other areas of the studio included the fluted glass doors with beautiful black frame arched detail, as well as the dramatic niche, bulkhead ceiling created in the boardroom. These nodes of the design were actually inspired by Donald’s father’s workplace, the Post Office in Pretoria. It was important for Donald to create these parallels linking the historic elements and the contemporary pieces, with the delicate balance between what they held on to and preserved, and which boundaries were pushed forward to change and update the space.
'My parents were always quite supportive and I owe a lot to them for supporting my journey as I know it’s not always easy ina creative career. However, we have been getting a few international requests for new projects which has been great for us. From Nairobi to Kenya, the UK and Zambia, it feels so good to put South African design out into the world with our signature,' mentions Donald.
As Donald’s style continues to evolve, his focus on longevity is all about leaving a legacy and creating sustainable design. 'Value, longevity and sustainability' is how he describes his current style, and this also reinforces the continuous weaving of old and new, heritage and future.