Homes: Ra’anana-fontein

A South African couple recreates its Jo’burg mansion.

June 25, 2010 18:22
4 minute read.
Some furniture been in the family for many years a

dining room 311. (photo credit: Uriel Messa)

What better way to create your home than to have a very experienced designer carry through the entire renovation while you go back to South Africa to plan your aliya?

This was what a retired couple who wanted to settle in Ra’anana near their children did. After they bought the rather dilapidated 100-square-meter apartment, they took the precaution of hiring Selwyn Elkin, a fellow South African with 30 years experience of interior design here, who planned and oversaw the transformation of their newly acquired home into the beautiful little gem it is today.

“I discussed the changes I wanted to make to the interior walls and we chose colors and fittings before they went back,” recounts Elkin. “We completely gutted the place and they never saw any of the breaking down and building. When they finally came, it was perfect and ready to walk into.”

The apartment is on the second floor of a 20-year-old building in the heart of town, but when one walks in and out to the small garden at the back, one has the feeling of being in a private villa. The garden is secluded, very pretty and so quiet one can sit under the striped awning and hear the birds of Ra’anana sending each other messages in time-honored fashion.

For the owners, one of the biggest challenges was downsizing from a Johannesburg mansion to an apartment which contains three bedrooms and two bathrooms besides the living rooms. They wanted to keep some of their furniture: It was all in perfect condition, and they had a special attachment to many of the pieces they brought. Some had been in the family for many years and some were antiques. They wanted to bring their art work and sculptures, trophies and family souvenirs. Somehow Elkin found space in the apartment by removing dividing walls, arranging the furniture in just the right way and, in one memorable instance, actually having a huge four-seater sofa cut down to a two-seater.

“It can be done, but you have to know who to go to and get the right people for the job,” explains Elkin.

Looking at the perfect finish of the coral-pink sofa next to the patio window, brightened up with matching cushions, it is hard to believe it is a half of its former self.

They have managed to recreate their original family room in the limited space available with clever placing of items to maximize the space without it looking too cluttered. Two cane armchairs complete the seating arrangement around the two identical glass tables which they prefer to solid wood. They thought the dining room suite with its heavy antique table and 10 matching chairs would be a problem, but Elkin found the perfect position for it, placing six chairs around the table and the rest around the apartment.

He also found room for two pink granite and wood side tables and an antique fire screen covered in handworked floral petit point. Built-in storage at the side is custom-made to house a variety of objects. The top shelves, with glass doors, display silver and family photos. Lower down are extra-wide drawers, and the owner shows me how she can store even her hot tray in one.

The open kitchen is absolutely impeccable and the owner is so fastidious that she keeps her dishcloths inside a cabinet. When the door opens, the cloths slide out on a moveable arm. The mixer and food processor are kept hidden behind a rolltop door which matches the cream cabinets. Two dishwashers ensure that no dish racks are in sight to sully the view.

The guest toilet is still in its place in the corridor leading to the bedrooms, but by dint of putting a sliding door rather than a conventional one, the designer made the area more user-friendly. In the small entrance created when he took away one of the walls, he has placed a welcoming tableau of a small table and two chairs, behind which they have hung one of their fine collection of paintings.

The master bedroom has a ceiling fan and the twin beds are dressed – no other word seems suitable – in exquisite cream embossed sheets which look as though they were expensive and custom-made but were actually bought here. The two beds are cleverly designed to contain underneath storage.

The attached bathroom is all white and, unusually for en-suite facilities, has a corner bath as well as a sit-down shower. The owner felt she was not yet ready to give up on the occasional soak in a hot tub. A scarlet throw over a chair introduces a bright splash of color to the bedroom. In another smaller room, a peach throw over the convertible sofa achieves the same effect.

The floor in the entire apartment is pinky beige granite porcelain which is hard wearing and easy to keep clean, an important factor for the very house-proud owners.

“It wasn’t easy at the beginning to get used to such a comparatively small space,” the owner tells me. “The problem wasn’t just psychological but actually physical as well. I used to find myself bumping my arms on the walls when I hung out the washing.”

After a year or so here, they have become used to living in a compact space and love it. They enjoy sitting in their perfect little garden which was completely overhauled, and take pleasure in the synthetic lawn which never needs watering or cutting. knowing they are contributing to the environment of the country they now call home.

If you know of a home which would qualify for this column, contact

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