houses

Go East: Where Natural Objects Meet High Design

Sarah de Pina

A historical horticultural show garden, built at the highest point in Johannesburg, has found new life in the hands of Jonty Mark, a sports editor, and husband Vincent Truter, a curator and creative director. The immense property includes a manor house, two charming stone cottages – built from the stone of the quarry below it in Bezuidenhout Valley – and, at its acme, a pale-pink 1950s ‘summer pavilion’.

Today, Lightning’s Nest seamlessly combines the couple’s love for nature and design into a creative living environment where an extraordinary collection of natural objects lives comfortably alongside high design.

When it was opened to the public in 1905, this site boasted one of the city’s most exquisite gardens, famous for its rare plants and spectacular views. But, after years of neglect while changing hands over the past century, it had become a jungle of wild species. Since buying it 15 years ago, the couple has tamed each of the spaces dramatically – in the garden and in the buildings – carefully embracing ancient Japanese philosophies to guide what should be kept and what should be removed.

The show garden’s original cast-iron street lamps have remained, for instance, and still light the way up the winding stone staircase at the base of the property, which meanders through decades-old beds of clivias, a waterfall and well-established, towering trees.

At the top of the stairs, a grand stone Herbert Baker-style manor house opens up to reveal a sitting room on one side, and the dining and kitchen areas on the other. The classical arrangement of the space is made contemporary with eclectic interiors, created by Vincent, who used the four elements as a theme: a room each for air, earth, fire and water.

In the ‘earth’-toned lounge, a turn-of-the-century handwoven silk obi graces the wall, alongside a larger silk textile. In the corner, on a lucite table from Modernist in Parkhurst, are a vintage wicker lamp from Granny’s Attic in Kensington and a quartz crystal sourced through a mineral specimens dealer. A glass Tone stool by Marcel Wanders for Kartell catches the light in the foreground.

 

A Dokter and Misses lamp prototype arcs over a vintage medical-examination-turned-shiatsu bed for Vincent’s practice in the ‘water’-themed room.

 

On the veranda, wicker chairs and a travertine table from a local antique store – presided over by an Arthur M Kayle print, another lucky vintage find – make sunny al fresco gatherings a pleasure. Overhead, hanging glass vessels sourced from a laboratory glass manufacturer in Joburg are filled with greenery from the vast, historical garden.

 

On the other side of the hall, bold turquoise walls, botanical fabrics and hordes of rare seashells capture the ‘water’ element in the home’s old front parlour, which Vincent has converted into his shiatsu and movement room. It’s also where he keeps his comprehensive array of shells – one of the largest such collections in the southern hemisphere, Vincent explains, all carefully arranged in beach-sand-filled boxes according to their biological taxonomy.

At the top of the garden, the summer pavilion overlooks a spectacular ‘Pink Champagne’ bottlebrush tree that the couple spent months trimming and training into what Vincent describes as ‘a giant bonsai’. The wind-gnarled, twisted trunk bends low to avoid the elements, and has become the ideal (if ‘accidental’) seat from which to view the picturesque expanse beyond.

Set at an airy 1 808m above sea level, this impromptu bench must be one of the most beautiful spots in Johannesburg and, like Lightning’s Nest itself, provides a perfect lesson in how a house – even when it’s also a grand manor – can live comfortably with nature.

resplendent above an Art Deco games table, from a cottage on the property, is a 27-year-old staghorn from Fernhaven nursery. The handcarved Indonesian screen beyond came from a Seychelles restaurant.

 

Using handmade ceramic teaware, homeowner Vincent Truter prepares a traditional Japanese tea ceremony in the kitchen.