Exploring a Heritage Home on Joburg's Westcliff Ridge
A heritage home in Westcliff has been given fresh life for the next generation with a sensitive restoration.
Working with an historically important building such as a heritage home can be a daunting task, often requiring decisions that could alter the future of the property forever. But when done correctly – as in the case of this house, Castle Ridge – the old and the new can celebrate each other, and start a new chapter in the property’s story.
Designed in 1927 by pioneering local architectural firm Stucke Harrison, the historic Castle Ridge house is an icon in the city’s architectural legacy. The landmark heritage home, situated at the highest point on Westcliff Ridge, bears all the signs of the Sir Herbert Baker-inspired architectural school from which it emerged – a stone base mined from the area, elegant proportions and wide windows from which to appreciate the alluring view.
Architect and heritage specialist Joe van Rooyen, who lives and works just a few streets down from the home, has been responsible for its restoration. Most of his restorative work on the project is largely invisible (as, of course, it should be) but the newly built, Bauhaus-inspired pavilion at the property’s base is unmissable. The narrow, light-filled space frames views of the heritage home above it, speaking in an entirely different language to the original house, but still somehow maintaining a ‘conversation’ with it.
‘What links the two structures is that both are designed for their context,’ says Van Rooyen. ‘The main house was designed to grow from the rocky ridge and to stress the swelling views. The pavilion was designed to address the street facade and the dramatic views up towards the house. In this way, both structures address their specific setting and context.’
At the heart of the home is the kitchen – an intimate and understated family space that easily combines the interiors’ classical planning with the needs of a contemporary cooking zone. In it, an informal dining spot is connected to the main cooking area via a kitchen garden, a fireplace and an Aga cooker.
‘We created the new kitchen by joining two adjacent rooms to create a larger space that can accommodate modern-day functions,’ says Van Rooyen. ‘By doing this, we could add seating that encourages socialising. We also changed two existing windows into French doors that linked the kitchen to the garden and filled the kitchen with lovely morning light. We removed the old kitchen joinery and designed the new modern kitchen around the Aga cooker, and we also restored an existing fireplace, creating wonderful ambiance and heating in winter.’
Throughout the heritage home's interiors, a palette of cool greys and Carrara marble is brought to life with warm velvet accents, floral chinoiserie, contemporary tapestry and a vibrant art collection. The homeowner explains that the interior design process began by restoring the original fixtures, many of which were still intact, and then updating them. It required bold decisions by both client and architect regarding what to salvage and to do away with.
In keeping with the storied past of this heritage home, for instance, the metres and metres of wood panelling that line the walls were retained – creating a nod to the original owners, timber merchant Samuel Schneier and his wife, Taube, who lived here for 32 years. But, radically, the panelling was all painted in a dark charcoal grey.
‘It helps to have a careful and informed look at what is of heritage value – what is interesting and worth preserving or restoring,’ Van Rooyen says. ‘It sometimes needs a bit of investigating the old and previous plans to see what the original space was, and how it has changed over its lifetime. What I love about this project is that it shows that sometimes one needs to take a space back to what it was, before you start designing the new.’