Text Graham Wood Styling Mariette Theron Photographs Elsa Young Multiple award-winning, Johannesburg-based architect Kate Otten is renowned for her distinctive aesthetic. Her vision is evident in the important and iconic buildings she’s designed, such as the Women’s Jail Precinct at Constitution Hill, the more recent Parkhurst Shops in Joburg and a wide range of houses, including her own Melville house, Lulu Kati Kati (see HL January 2010). That house, she says, is entirely and uncompromisingly her own vision. However, when Kate and her partner, Paris Pitsillides, decided to renovate and move into his Parktown North house with their daughter, Paloma, her approach was quite the opposite. She and Paris agreed that while renovating this house, neither of them would make any unilateral decisions. ‘The result is a house in which there is nothing we don’t agree on,’ says Kate. That is one of the secrets, perhaps, to its sense of harmony. It also reconciles a number of contrasts, most notably between its old and new aspects and its interior and exterior spaces. It’s hard to believe it when you walk in, but it was originally a 1960s ranch-style house with a low-slung roof. ‘Now, it’s more elegant,’ says Kate, in something of an understatement. The rooms were made larger and the volumes have been raised – high-level windows were added to let in the northern light and overhangs were added to keep it cool in summer. Extra bathrooms, a lounge, a veranda and an upstairs area were built on. The house’s transformation is all the more remarkable for the fact that Kate wanted to retain the character of the original house. Although it looks utterly different and is now unmistakably modern, large parts and many elements of the existing house, such as the glass and timber sliding doors, have been retained and/or re-used. ‘The new and existing are all one thing,’ says Kate. This aesthetic blurring of old and new can be seen in other aspects of the house, too. The dining room chairs and the light fittings have a similar effect. ‘They’re a bit retro, but at the same time, utterly modern,’ says Kate. The floors in the private areas of the house are reclaimed parquet; they aren’t laid out in the traditional herringbone or basket patterns, but in a modern brick pattern. ‘It’s another way we’ve integrated new and old,’ she says. Kate kept the stone walls and used rock in new areas of the house, such as the lounge and bathrooms. The materials of the original house (the slate floors, the wood, glass and knotty pine ceilings) are retained and extended, maintaining a fidelity to the original house. The home is roughly divided between public and private spaces – the kitchen, living and dining areas on one side, and the bedrooms and bathrooms on the other. It’s a configuration inherited from the original house. ‘The public spaces are easy to move between. It’s a very easy house to live in,’ says Kate. The private spaces – bedrooms – have a slightly different character from the rest of the house. She redid all the bedrooms and bathrooms, and chose one language for them all. ‘It adds a peaceful quality to the house,’ says Kate. The whole building is naturally lit. The high-level windows and skylights let the sun in to the farthest reaches of the house. Correct orientation and overhangs control the heat and light. ‘People call it green, but it’s just good design,’ says Kate. She has managed to keep the energy consumption down, though, with solar-heated water, and she uses gas to heat the house. Another trademark of Kate’s work is the seamless relationship she creates between home and garden. She treated the garden as an extension of the house. ‘Glass “walls” slide away so there is no divide between the house and the garden,’ she points out. She worked with landscaper Tim Conradie, levelling out the garden and creating a plane of lawn that moves right up to the house. The lounge, dining room and veranda have been configured so that as soon as the sliding door is opened, the veranda becomes part of the lounge. The veranda is covered so that it’s possible to sit outside even when it’s raining. The lounge, dining room and veranda share a ceiling and feature the same random skylights that create beautiful shafts of light throughout the house. It’s a feature inspired by forest canopies, where the ‘roof’ lets light through, creating a feeling of being inside and outside at the same time. ‘The glass doors are planes that slide out into the garden,’ she explains, which seems to draw the garden into the house. In the main bedroom, all the doors slide away. ‘The bed is ostensibly in the garden,’ Kate adds. The colour palette of the building is calm and neutral. For the most part, the colours come from the materials – the stone, the slate, the raw plaster and the wood. But Kate loves colour, so she has brought in bursts of pink, red and yellow with her furniture and art. The textures throughout the house are also central to its appeal. The plaster, for example, is hand patterned using a tiling trowel. It complements the play of light and shade that runs throughout the house. ‘The choice of materials brings a calmness and warmth to the house,’ she says. That, perhaps, sums up this home’s atmosphere. It’s warm, calm and elegant, shaped by Paris and Kate’s affection for it, which is ultimately what makes it so easy to live in – ‘We love our house!’ Kate Otten Architects, kateottenarchitects.com
Kate’s Home Truths
What’s the best thing about living where you do? Our house feels like a sanctuary surrounded by trees – away from the madding crowd. How would you describe your own style? ‘Astylistic’ – my work responds to people, places and possibilities. What inspires you? Textures, light/shadow, colour; places I’ve never seen before; extraordinary people; gardens. Do you like any furniture designers in particular? Richard Stretton, who makes beautifully detailed pieces with a twist, and the Tonic boys who consistently produce their own stylish take on Modernism. Design you’re most proud of? I love them all for different reasons… my Melville house for its sense of adventure; the Westcliff pavilion for how it becomes part of the landscape; the Parkhurst shops for the gentleness of their residential scale in a suburban high street… They’re all happy buildings. Most exciting project you’ve worked on? The Women’s Jail. It was a heady time – part of the awakening post-1994 elections. Such interesting challenges and visionary people involved. What is your interiors motto? Understand the architecture of your space and the interiors will follow. And always include a real, live, tactile oil-on-canvas that you love! Favourite piece of design advice? Trust me, I am an architect… Where do you think up your best ideas? In my head… seriously, the conversation goes on all the time, even when I’m asleep. Pet design hate? Thoughtless, wasteful, ugly buildings and the people who ‘design’ them. Most inspiring place? Wide-open spaces like the Karoo. Secret talents? I make perfect popcorn, a to-die-for chocolate cake and I’m, secretly, a seamstress by night. This article was originally featured in the September 2011 issue of House and Leisure.