Modern family home makeover
Design guru Nic Criticos revamped a dark Victorian house in Sea Point into a light-filled home, ideal for his family.
At 2003’s first showing of the rundown Atlantic Seaboard house – with its many original ornate features and flourishes, 1970s additions like the mustard-coloured bathroom, and poky spaces – it was hard to imagine less likely second-viewers, let alone buyers, than Nic Criticos and Lori Cohen.
A trained architect and national head of store design for one of South Africa’s largest upmarket retailers, Nic is every inch an unapologetic, die-hard disciple of a particularly fundamental form of cutting-edge contemporary design. And it’s serious. For him, Philippe Starck is ‘too tongue-in-cheek’. Nic’s design philosophy is informed, rather, by Norman Foster (the man ‘who gave Modernism its’ good name back’), Tom Dixon (outspoken proponent of expressive reductionism) and David Chipperfield (known for his signature modern austerity). A Victorian home couldn’t have been further from his dream, yet he found he had to have this one. The engaged couple put in an acceptable offer that very day.
‘I’m certainly not an active fan of Victorian architecture,’ says Nic. ‘But I had to admit: this felt like a “real house”. It was freestanding, where most homes in the area are not, it had good bones, and it had definite integrity. It had barely been touched and I could immediately see it had great potential.’ As he speaks, one-year-old Stella sits happily munching on a piece of cucumber at the dining table while Lori, a magazine editor and writer, coaxes five-year-old Noah to swap his Batman pyjamas for daywear.
‘Nic doesn’t tell me how to write, and I don’t tell him how to design,’ says Lori. ‘Or that’s what he always says. He’s definitely the one who designed our home.’
Three-Phase Home Makeover
Luckily for Lori, her home makeover was in good hands. Its reinvention has entailed three distinct phases, the first and most dramatic of which took three months and was done before they moved in. ‘For the other two, we lived in the house; we’ve lived in one part while working on another, over time,’ explains Lori. Changes that brought the greatest impact on their lives and on the space include removing the wooden windows (‘they were falling apart’), installing double doors to link interiors and exteriors in the kitchen, dining area, sitting room area, Stella’s bedroom and the main bedroom, and adding an en-suite main bathroom. They also put roof lights into both passageways, raised the peripheral fence for privacy, and transformed the original garage into a separate, nanny-friendly apartment with its own bathroom and kitchenette.
To say Nic has realised the old Victorian’s ‘potential’ would be a gross understatement. It’s now both an expansive, light-filled adult haven set very firmly within the modernist design idiom, and a fully integrated and functioning family-focused indoor-outdoor environment. And if there’s just one guiding principle behind this transformation’s resounding success, it’s Nic’s unshakeable commitment to ruthless simplicity while optimising and integrating every available inch of space.
His rigorous selection and retention of only the most exemplary original Victorian features adds historic and visual depth to the pared-down, minimalist canvas. By creating an open-plan area incorporating kitchen, dining and living rooms, there’s a sense of spatial generosity that extends through the many double French doors leading outside. The artful physical and aesthetic connection between the main bedroom’s bathroom and the living space and swimming pool means fluid flow for entertaining and being able to meet the needs of wet, chilly children, without creating additional housework. A custom-made retractable awning turns the space outside the kitchen into an informal dining room. And throughout, the thoroughly distilled palette takes its lead from the black-stained original floorboards, white walls and restrained accents of silver and natural wood, making a sophisticated, unifying statement. ‘I love colour and thought I’d miss it, but Nic has brought me around,’ admits Lori.
This quiet structural backdrop creates a neutral frame that dramatises the few decor colour choices. Works of contemporary art (Nic has been an avid collector since childhood and Lori and Nic have a tradition of exchanging them as gifts for anniversaries) become magnetising, easily holding their own and commanding attention. Vibrant cushions on the large, inviting sofa – self-designed by Nic – become features. A bright yellow wall makes Noah’s bedroom the definition of cheerfulness, and colourful toys on the shelves of his sister’s bedroom suggest flights of fantasy and fun. Indeed, the master-stroke of this modern makeover must be just that: while minimalist design philosophy can’t be taken too seriously, neither can playtime.
Psst! Take a look at the secrets behind Nic and Lori’s makeover.
Text: Laura Twiggs, Lori Cohen
Production: Sven Alberding
Photographs: Greg Cox/bureaux.co.za