Makeover: Moving on Up

May 7, 2018 | Design and Decor

Take inspiration from these designers that take average spaces and make them exceptional.

Unlike a new build that offers a blank canvas, a renovation of makeover project involves serious problem-solving and space maximizing skill, as well as an understanding of the transformative power of finishes, colour and accessories.

Traditional to Timeless

86 Design

Designers Lauren King and Ansu Cornelius of 86 Design transformed a stately family home in Johannesburg with a rich Italianate theme by using smart but simple fixes that ultimately took it from dated to entirely timeless. With an overall effect that was initially quite dark and serious, the team transformed the rooms with an updated palette and contemporary finishes, while retaining the home’s classical spirit.


Starting with a base that included a lot of wooden finishes and country-style furniture, the designers changed the whole personality of the space with an effective strategy of updating the palette and finishes. The most effective of these was giving the island and built-in cabinetry a facelift. Crisp, clean high-gloss duco-sprayed units with a glamorous brass kickplate replaced the dated cupboards and drawers, and the Frosty Carina countertop from Caesarstone in place of the original black surface lifts the whole scheme.
Switching the wall colour from an underwhelming cream to a clean contemporary grey was a game changer. It also allowed the existing armoire to pop. Likewise painting the extractor hood white, and installing new false blinds to match the crisp new cabinetry and countertops gives the space cohesion.

TV room

Fussy built-in shelving and storage gave the TV room a busy feel. 86 Design replaced this with sleek, stylish wooden cladding with a monocoat finish in Cotton White. By removing the ornate fireplace surround to leave it simple and minimal, the effect is a million times more modern.
In terms of soft finishings, the team has replaced pattern with texture – a smart swap for a calming and contemporary solution. Rugs from Joseph and Joseph Carpets are luxe, but unobtrusive.


The major changes in this room are by way of completely changing the palette, and a simplification and reduction of the furniture. Just by painting over all the existing mahogany woodwork – wall panelling and shelving units – in bright Ivory White from Plascon, the space is transformed. Then, the team removed surplus furniture, and pared the space down to a simple seating area and desk zone. A few simple swaps – a more modern desk, some simple curtains, and an elegant custom-designed coffee table – gave the room a refreshed feel, so that the original pieces (lamps and armchairs reupholstered in a graphic fabric from Hertex) that were re-used, look new again.

Take-home lesson

Context is everything. You don’t have to start from scratch or even implement structural alterations for a major overhaul – 86 Design has kept various items of furniture, but just updated their surroundings, with cosmetic changes like colour and finishes which gives them a fresh effect.

Outdated to updated

Studio 19

Known for her ultra-contemporary but earthy aesthetic, Mia Widlake of Studio 19 uses colour and texture as a way of layering rooms. Two recent projects are a masterclass in how you can give a space a high-end feel just by using the right materials and tones.


Studio 19 transformed this clumsy and unimpressive kitchen into a seamless light-filled and functional room with a total rethinking of materials. Cabinetry, taps and handles, all custom-designed by the company create a unified design language throughout the room where before it was disjointed and oppressive with surfaces at different heights. A glossy white backsplash with tiles from Tiletoria offers texture in a neutral tone, and offsets the white and matte blonde of the cupboards – a radical change from the dark countertops and units that were there previously. Black and metallic accents (drawer pulls, a statement light from Majestic Lighting, the taps) ground the pale scheme and give it gravitas.


The original curved stairwell with its old-fashioned shade of blue and tan tiled floor was given a total makeover to create a clean and more space-effective segway to the next level. Sleek floors from M Flor, a sophisticated coat of charcoal paint from Plascon, contemporary artwork, and clever vertical railing custom designed by Studio 19 create a striking focal point out of what was an awkward space.

Living room

A messy pairing of cheap sliding glass doors and security gate, and dated floor tiles were taken out of the living room and replaced by seamless black-framed stacking doors and large-format floor tiles from Tiletoria, which together make the space feel much more expansive. Sleek cabinets and occasional tables replace the haphazard assemblage of furniture that was there before.

Take-home lesson

Cohesion is essential – when conceptualizing a space you have to have a macro view and think about how all the elements work together and complement one another. Have a consistent thread that runs through

Small to space savvy

Dylan Thomaz Interiors

A master of using detail to upgrade a space, Dylan Thomas has transformed various apartments using his signature classic meets contemporary combination of elements. For these two projects, he turned compact and cramped into cosy and comfortable.

Living room: Seapoint

A two-bedroom apartment in Seapoint with no real identity and sense of space was given a subtle but seriously effective overhaul by Dylan, who installed classical detailing to smarten it up. In the living room, while a mirror already enhanced the sense of the size of the room, the space didn’t feel thought through. Dylan’s addition of wall mouldings, bulkheads in the ceiling and a built-in banquette give it a polished, finished effect. More contemporary furniture adds to the refreshed feel.

Studio apartment: City Centre

In the bedroom of a studio apartment in Cape Town, Dylan converted a whole wall of messy cupboards that emphasized the small size of the room, into one long seamless storage unit to hide any clutter. Pretty compact wall lamps (that take up zero floor space and don’t require a console) from Cecile & Boyd, a selection of midcentury furniture pieces and artwork finds from vintage stores give it a sense of identity. Dylan has placed compact, versatile stools under the window – they can function as a counter, or as side tables.

The bathroom was taken from stock-standard old-school beige to smart black and white, with herringbone wall tiles on the wall and chic brass detailing. By removing the boring wall mirror and replacing it with a vintage one, and adding a painting, Dylan has injected personality and life into the once-sterile space.

Take-home lesson

Small needn’t feel cheap. You can create a sense of luxury and opulence in a compact space entirely through finishes and good lighting, and by adding unique pieces that make it memorable.


TEXT Julia Freemantle  PHOTOGRAPHS Elsa Young, supplied