Interior designer Donald Nxumalo’s Joburg home is a colourful haven of curated maximalism
Donald Nxumalo has energy. South Africa’s most exciting young decorator is also its most excited, so much so that it is hard not to get caught up in his magnetic field, even over a medium as lacklustre as zoom. sporting a classic white T-shirt and a megawatt smile, his welcome is disarmingly generous, like coming over to an old friend rather than the (sometimes stiff) exchange that can be the interview process. ‘design is more than just about how it looks, it is about how you experience it,’ he says, wasting no time. ‘If someone comes into your home and feels something, that is a space with soul. You want to feel good and feel recharged.’ and the interiors are nothing if not charged.
Pattern and colour make the first impression, applied with controlled abandon, a brand of calculated insouciance that resonates with this designer. ‘There was no mood board, I just allowed the process to guide me and it unfolded in front of me,’ says Donald. ‘The important question for me was not “does it match?” but rather, “do I love that? does it feel good?” It is about not being intentional but being intuitive.’ of course, before this could happen, Donald had to find the apartment that met his specific needs: somewhere close to the city but with a feeling of being in nature. ‘I needed to come home to something softer,’ he says, pointing out a large willow tree that dominates the view through his windows. ‘In the year that I have lived here, I have watched its leaves turn brown, fall off and, now, it is budding. I need that connection to the outside.’
Inside, Donald’s approach was to focus on key pieces that would enhance the space, making it feel both light and liveable. ‘I believe that if you can decorate a small space – and do it well – you can decorate any space. There is no cheating it, everything needs to work,’ he says. ‘a key component in my space was that it had to feel luxurious, I wanted to be fully enveloped in this sense of my own style.’ so, to achieve this, he embarked on a 10-month mission of layering pattern, texture and tone, guided by his innate sense of what would work in much the same way an art buyer builds their collection.
‘The entire process felt like this challenge I had set for myself, testing my decision-making ability and trusting my gut-feel,’ he says. ‘I have this saying at the studio, “you date a trend, you marry a classic”.’ Those timeless elements include the white bouclé sofa, prized for its quiet comfort, and the mustard wallpaper, an addition that surprised even the designer, much like the all-black kitchen which now serves as a gallery-like space for his art. ‘I have really come to accept and trust in my decisiveness as a decorator, even as I was decorating for myself,’ he says.
‘Though many of the elements were decided upon at different times, at the end they all came together cohesively.’ a self-described international thinker with a local connection, Donald’s home – and his style – are informed by both his travels as well as a keen reverence for his heritage. Take, for example, the bronze sculpture in the living room that reminds the designer of his grandmother, who grew up on a farm and would go out every morning to pick mielies and spinach. similarly, the profusion of greenery throughout the interiors speak to growing up in his mother’s plant-filled home and, in his study, is a Millers antique chair that has been reupholstered in an embroidered fabric, perfectly capturing Donald’s need for every element to have with it an emotional connection.
‘My grandmother was Ndebele so if something stands still for long enough, we paint and bead it,’ he laughs. ‘If we had to describe rooms as a “wave”, a “handshake” or a “hug”, this layering definitely makes these rooms that hug,’ he says. What has become clear is that Donald’s approach is that of a storyteller, weaving together interiors with narrative, spaces that let you see the personal side of the person living there in a way that’s charged with energy and life. ‘I mean, on the one side my grandmother is Ndebele but on the other side my grandmother is Shangaan, and on top of that there’s Zulu in my family, too,’ he smiles. ‘so, all of that, coming through in one person, there is going to be some action.