Tiny Saxonwold Apartment

PHOTOGRAPHS Dook PRODUCTION Annemarie Meintjes WORDS Mila Crewe-Brown PORTRAIT Leana Clunies-Ross

This small Joburg apartment provides solace for its owner thanks to genius visual trickery and savvy use of space.

“I didn’t want to have a garage full of stuff I’d use one day, maybe. I want to surround myself with the things I love, because life is so short,” Lesley Fox tells me as she whizzes around her kitchen, cupboards flying open to reveal a fridge, an oven, a coffee station, a washing machine… all hidden behind a wall of doors.

She has a meeting in 45 minutes and is doing her best to fit me into a hectic schedule as project manager and operational trainer for Fox Browne Creative. The fact that she spent a total of 48 days at home last year reveals how demanding her work life is and how that lifestyle calls for a home that is as easy to manage as it is welcoming.

Lesley’s apartment in one of Saxonwold’s most sought-after complexes comes in at a titchy 55 m2 upstairs. The word “upstairs” is used loosely, since downstairs comprises an entranceway and staircase. She has lived here since 2002 and wanted a refurb, but decided it was better if she handed the job over to someone who could offer a fresh eye.

Enter Astrid Van Der Heim, who is skilled at making a lifestyle for her clients by way of design. She took Lesley’s brief and handled it with all the care in the world, answering to her need for space and honouring all the keepsakes she holds dear.

“This was a standard one-bedroom, very ordinary apartment,” Astrid reflects, citing an awkward L-shaped melamine kitchen counter and click-lock flooring to paint the picture. What Lesley asked from Astrid was a glamorous and comfortable home to return to after living out of a suit case for weeks on end, and to incorporate cherished family pieces such as a jonk manskas, camphor wood screen, floral needle point rug and Chinese lions.

“Astrid did two incredibly clever things,” says Lesley: “one is boxing in the balustrade to make storage space, and the other is taking the wall colour right into the ceilings.” The mercurial grey that Astrid chose for the walls, ceilings and window frames serves to dissolve all structural lines, essentially creating a blank canvas and tricking the eye. Against it she has thrown in an electric mix of luscious pinks and purples. The inclusion of such vivid colours, Lesley says, is a welcome change from the neutrality of the lodges she works in.

Taking the kitchen counter out provided more space and opened this zone up to the lounge, where Lesley now has an old trifold table as her dining area. Her television, which forms part of her work routine, has been concealed inside a shallow wall cupboard with shelves and a desk in front of it that serves as her office. As she walks me through her apartment, pointing at things, she regales me with stories of whom this belonged to, whom that was a gift from, and why they are meaningful to her.

“There is a reason for everything,” Lesley says, with a hint of her work life coming through. “I love my home but my passion is training people, so I don’t want to be fussing about my living space. Astrid has made it possible to do that.”