It was the sweep of undulating vineyards bordering the site that clinched the deal for Matt and Victoria Bresler. Better still, the vines were part of the Groot Constantia estate, and the couple could see the roof of the 300-year-old manor house.
‘They fell in love with the vineyards,’ is how architect Jan-Heyn Vorster puts it. ‘We all did at that first site meeting.’
The brief the Breslers had given Jan-Heyn and Tiaan Meyer of Meyer+Vorster Architects was to design an easy-going contemporary home for the couple and their three young children – Jonty, eight, Hannah, six, and Ollie, four – that would maximise this view. During the two and a half years it would take to build the house, they would witness the ever-changing ocean of vines shifting from a mass of orange during autumn to an intense spring green.
It was a journey Jan-Heyn describes as ‘a wonderfully collaborative team effort’ between the Breslers and all the professionals involved, including landscaper Mary Maurel and interior designer Danielle Howard. The result was a grittily on-trend home with flyaway roof structures and an edgy interior where generous amounts of solar film coated glass and pale oiled oak are complemented by off-shutter concrete in both walls and ceilings.
Encircling the vineyards, the bold, beautiful construction appears to hover slightly above the earth. There’s a gentle transition down to a large, dark, salt-water pool that appears more like a pond – the only remnant of the previous property, which the Breslers had demolished. A fynbos garden curls alongside the vineyard, and there are masses of flowering trees, both indigenous and exotic, on this one-acre plot.
Matt is a tree lover. For the garden he brought in 165, some as tall as six metres, many of them hard to source. ‘For some of the species on my wish list, I ended up tracking down the only specimen I could find in the country,’ he says. ‘It was quite something, collecting a really old kokerboom I had tracked down on Gumtree from the home of Wessel Steffens in Brackenfell. He had planted it 40 years ago when it was broomstick sized.
‘As my three-year-old, Ollie, helped eight of us drag the tree from its first suburban home, it really felt as if Wessel was handing Ollie the mantle to look after it for the next 40 years.’
Another pet project was the wine cellar racking system that Matt designed and installed to house nearly 1 000 bottles of wine. ‘I used cabling and stainless steel rods to create a minimalist structure that suspends the bottles against the cellar walls, which we clad with klompie bricks – small, traditional, handmade bricks chosen to be in keeping with the vineyard setting.’
The house itself was an architectural challenge. The site’s previous house had been low, so mountains of soil had to be brought in to raise the levels. This elevated the single-level structure so that services beneath the bedroom wing, such as geysers, the heat pump and the bore hole tank, could be accessed. However, although from the road the house appears to be a double storey, on the vineyard side it appears to be a single storey, not visible from Groot Constantia’s central werf (yard) – an aspect the architects intentionally took into account, considering the significance of this heritage site.
Another astute design feature is the location of the entrance foyer. This double-volume stairwell separates the four bedrooms – stepped to maximise each of their views –from the living and entertainment area where angled roofs let in more light from above. These jagged roofs, made of German zinc-coated titanium, balance the quieter low-slung roofs of the bedroom wing.
Matt and Victoria love the home’s contemporary design and the open flow within. ‘We always wanted to build out of straightforward materials like wood, cement, stone and glass,’ says Victoria. ‘We’ve aimed to complement that with the furniture we’ve bought while adding a bit of interest and character with some of our favourite collectables from our travels.’
Jan-Heyn says it was a treat to work with people who understand how good design improves your quality of life. ‘All successful architectural projects should be a collaborative process,’ he says. ‘The garden and the interior design should both respond to the architecture.’
Originally published in HL January/February 2015