Suit yourself

Suit yourself

Originally published in Livingspace magazine

Just because your house is now dominated by finger painting and indoor soccer matches, doesn’t mean you have to live in what looks like a daycare centre. Ideally, you want to create a sophisticated home for grown-ups that your kids feel happy and comfortable in too.

  • Compromise. By all means get the stylish sofa shape of your dreams – Chesterfield, anyone? – but order it in a colour and fabric that will stand up to stains and spills. (Machine-washable slip covers are a godsend.) 

  • Farewell pristine walls, hello fingerprints and unauthorised crayon murals. Save yourself a headache or two and choose a water-based enamel paint with a high-gloss finish, as these are durable, washable and stain-resistant, according to Samantha Drake of Medal Paints. 

  • Lay seagrass or sisal rugs in high-traffic areas to save your carpets or hardwood floors from scuffs, spills and skateboard wheels. You can always whip them up when those sophisticated friends come over for dinner. 

  • Bring the kids into the decor. A child’s watercolour painting, framed professionally and hung on a gallery wall, suddenly becomes real art.

  • Toys everywhere is not a great look. Stash them away in fabric bins and baskets, which are now available in gorgeous colours and prints to suit your decor. These are also light enough for little ones to handle easily, so they can be toted around a room when it’s time to clean up the teddy bears’ tea party.  

  • Ultimately, remember that this is not forever. Soon (too soon, according to most parents) the kids will be little grown-ups, and you’ll feel nostalgic about that time they made a hammock out of your bedroom curtains and brought the whole rail crashing down. 

Make the most of your shoebox-sized flat by creating the illusion of extra square meterage. 

  • Clutter and small spaces don’t go together. If you’re not a minimalist by nature, invest in clever, hidden storage, like an ottoman that opens up to swallow all those magazines, DVDs and extra blankets. 

  • A light-coloured floor immediately creates the illusion of more space. If you’re renting (or you own but don’t want the hassle of replacing the floor outright), consider simply laying a new one on top. Traviata Flooring has lovely laminate and vinyl options that are strong enough to be laid over an existing floor, with no dust, glue or even much elbow grease, thanks to a top-lock joint system. And when it’s time to move, they can be easily removed to return the space to its original condition, so you get your full deposit back.  

  • Opt for couches, beds and shelving that have exposed legs rather than those that sit flush with the floor, and go for glass or perspex tables. The further the gaze can travel unimpeded, the greater the overall impression of spaciousness will be. 

  • A single light source in the middle of the ceiling draws everything in towards it and screams ‘cramped’. Use smart lighting to demarcate different areas in a studio flat, for example, a reading lamp near the bed and standing lamps in the living area. 

  • The quickest way to create the illusion of space is to pull all your furniture five to 10 cm away from the walls. This tricks the eye into thinking the edges of the room are further away than they are. 

Even the most well-behaved pets still come with shedding, drool, claws, muddy paws and the occasional ‘accident’.

  • Invest in a leather couch. Real leather is hard-wearing and will stand up to paws much better in the long run than a fabric sofa. It’s also easy to clean (get item-specific instructions from the manufacturer) and any scratches can be easily buffed out with a chamois. Though you may wince at every claw mark in the beginning, these eventually add to the item’s patina, creating a beautifully distressed look over time.  

  • Microfibre is another good option for couches, if you don’t want to go the leather route. The term refers to any material that has a very tight weave, such as canvas or denim. Loosely woven materials, like tweed, not only trap dirt, but may also snag your cat’s claws, which could rip the fabric or cause her distress.

  • Opt for machine-washable everything, from your duvet and throw-pillow covers to small rugs and pet beds. If you’re finicky about your doggo’s drooled-on cushion going in the same washing machine as your delicates, do an empty load with recycled water, bicarb and vinegar in between. 

  • Distraction is key. A strategically placed scratching post and a selection of chew toys should save your couch and table legs from bored pets who want to exercise their claws and jaws. 

  • Master the art of camouflage. When buying new furniture (or recovering old favourites), choose a colour that matches your pet, or opt for busy patterns, so any shed hair is less noticeable.

Whether you’re a never-at-home type or you’re letting out your apartment on Airbnb, you want your space to require minimal cleaning and maintenance to look its best.

  • If you’re starting from scratch, the experts recommend going with a stained concrete floor with a protective sealer, as it’s virtually impossible to stain and a cinch to sweep and mop. Good-quality laminate and vinyl (again, try Traviata Flooring) are similarly easy-breezy. 

  • Consider attaching discrete casters to some of your furniture, so you can easily move things around to make cleaning easier. 

  • Pare down your possessions. It’s incredibly time-consuming to dust around a hundred little tchotchkes, or to have to move four appliances just to wipe down the kitchen counter. Toss or donate anything you don’t use daily, and enjoy the ease of living with only what you need. 

  • When renovating the kitchen and bathroom, stay away from small tiles for floors, walls and countertops – ain’t nobody got time for taking a toothbrush to all that grout. Caesarstone has some lovely countertop options for bathrooms and kitchens that are durable, beautiful and require the merest of wipes to keep clean. You should also under-mount your kitchen sink, so mess can be wiped right in. 

So you love having friends and family over, but your kitchen table doesn’t quite resemble Siba Mtongana’s? No problem. Here’s how to optimise your space for entertaining. 

  • Light that’s too bright can be a mood killer. If you can’t fit dimmer switches to your current set-up, place lamps strategically throughout the space. Candles work well too and create an intimate atmosphere.

  • You don’t need to have six matching, high-backed chairs to host a dinner party – after all, if your guests wanted formal dining, they’d head to the nearest restaurant. Embrace the art of the mismatch, bringing in seating from other rooms if need be. Take this theme through to the tableware; a matching, white, dinner service may be classic but a collection of your favourite artsy plates makes things more fun and less stuffy. 

  • Nothing adds a little glamour like a drinks cart. You don’t have to provide a full cocktail service – a spirit or two, ice and garnish, decanted wine and glassware will look trés chic (and will keep guests out of the kitchen if you still have one or two quick tasks to take care of). 

  • If your guests will be congregating in the living room before or after dinner, make sure you downplay the TV. Rearrange the furniture so that it’s primed for cosy conversation, rather than everyone’s gaze being directed towards a blank big-screen.

Photo by Liana Mikah

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