Gallery: Indulging in a dark passion


Known best for her daring use of sultry charcoals, blonde woods and warm metallics, Durban interior designer Ruth Duke was the natural choice for Paul and Anna Dranias, who wanted their home near uMhlanga to have a bold, luxurious feel with a timeless, clean-lined aesthetic.

“When we met Ruth for the first time, we fell in love with her style, energy and charisma,” remarks Paul. “She immediately picked up on the look we were going for and from then on, she had carte blanche. Together, she and Anna took charge.”

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Designer Ruth Duke chose the same large L-shaped sofa from Weylandts that she bought for her own home, its a 'Linteloo' sectional sofa, upholstered with St Leger & Viney's 'Slubby Linen'. Picture: Elsa Young, House and GardenA black feature wall gives depth to the dining area. Picture: Elsa Young, House and GardenThe main bedroom is Paul's favourite room in the house. 'It's spacious and intimate all at the same time,' he says. Ruth brought colour into the space with a quilted throw from Pezula Interiors. Picture: Elsa Young, House and GardenThe exterior of the home, which has its entertainment and kitchen areas upstairs. Picture: Elsa Young, House and GardenThe black theme has even been taken outdoors to the terrace. Picture: Elsa Young, House and GardenBlack subway tiles from Douglas Jones add polish to this bathroom. Picture: Elsa Young, House and GardenThis feature appears in the June issue of Cond� Naste House and Garden, on sale now.

Set in the Hawaan Forest Estate, the home is surrounded by lush, colourful vegetation, which formed part of the inspiration for the interior’s colour palette. “I used accents of burnt orange, yellow, green and a little blue because they mimic the colours of the plants on the estate,” explains Ruth.

Despite her deliberate use of colour, the base palette is a neutral one, another very conscious decision on her part. “I used dark walls to modulate the huge amount of light that the structure affords the spaces,” she says. “It’s very calming in Durban’s year-round tropical climate.”

When using a dark hue in such an all-encompassing way, there is a risk that a space can end up gloomy and stifling. “I was nervous and wondered at times if it would be too heavy,” admits Paul.

The team, however, ensured him of the exact opposite – an easy-living, light-filled space with an undeniably glamorous edge.

From a structural perspective, the building, designed by architecture firm Jay & Nel Architects, was devised to include large openings that make the most of the surrounding views and allow maximum light in, without compromising on privacy.

“The house is set on split levels, with the living spaces on the upper levels and the bedrooms on the ground level,” says principal architect Paul Nel. “The approach to the house was to allow the various layers to open up and reveal more as one moves through the spaces.”

At first, Anna was hesitant about the proposed layout. “Initially it was tough getting our heads around the entertainment and kitchen areas being upstairs, but we succumbed to the architect’s vision and are eternally grateful. The forest and sea views create the illusion that the house is floating.”

Knowing Ruth’s style well, and having worked with her before, Nel felt that the use of industrial material was key to creating a hard-working backdrop for Ruth’s rich, dark interior scheme – one which epitomises her sought-after signature style. He installed floors of polished concrete and walls clad in untreated timber, which contrast with the slickness of the mirror, glass and metal throughout the home. Taps in raw, unfinished copper enhance this aesthetic.

“Ruth and I shared a similar vision for the home and she added finesse and an interesting dimension to the architecture,” he says.

For Ruth, it was important to pay attention to small details, adding interest through subtle accents. “Pops of bright colour break up the monotony of large areas of grey and charcoal, and geometric patterns on throws and pillows add depth, injecting energy into the space.”

It’s the inclusion of warm metallics, however, that really adds a sophisticated edge – the pendants above the dining table, for example, are grey papier mâché with gold on the inside of the shade, creating a beautiful, soft glow when illuminated. “Metallics are very powerful against dark hues”, she suggests.

Ruth’s approach to decorating is perhaps clearest in the master bedroom, where touches of violet and burnt orange combine with almost-black carpets and a timber-plinth headboard to create an overwhelming sense of calm.

The young couple’s excitement at the finished product is palpable. “We couldn’t have asked for anything better,” says Paul. And it seems the feeling is mutual. “It was one of the happiest installations I’ve had in my career as a decorator,” Ruth reveals.

* Contacts: Ruth Duke: 082 928 2277; Paul Nel Architects:


Back to black

Textures to use to achieve Ruth Duke’s signature inky palette:

Hard surfaces

The charcoal wall colour is Dulux “00NN07/000”.

The black subway tiles with a bevelled edge from Kenzan Tiles give a glamorous finish.

Soft materials

Hertex Fabrics “Pleiten” fabric in Onyx has an amazing woven matte texture for upholstery.

For the rug, check out the Rug Revolution “Metal” rug from Paco.


Source: Condé Nast House & Garden magazine.

Text: Kelly Adami

Magazine production- Dean Van Aswegen

Photographs: Elsa Young

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