Text Leigh Robertson Production Retha Erichsen Photographs Micky Hoyle
On the outskirts of Port Elizabeth, where huddled cluster housing gives way to smallholdings, and winding roads dotted with horse riders wend through thick coastal forest in view of the wild, dune-flecked beach of Sardinia Bay, is the conservancy area of Chelsea. Set deep amid the indigenous bush on a 1.8-ha property is a house that’s so perfectly attuned to its environment it’s almost camouflaged, and yet so architecturally striking as to stand out in brave outline against the soft foliage.
A study of contrasts, it is, essentially, two quite distinctive and complete units, designed by different architects. One is all raw concrete, exposed brick and gleaming glass, from floor to clerestory windows; the other, quite literally, a balau-clad box.
It’s the home of eminent sculptor Wehrner Lemmer, renowned for his bold metal sculptures, and his wife, Annette, along with a troop of gregarious dogs and two cats. There’s an enchanting sense of being out in the wilderness – monkeys, bush pigs and other creatures lurk just out of sight – yet it’s only 20 minutes away from the city, where Annette runs a successful hair salon. Wehrner’s studio is adjacent to the house, attached to the double garage that once occupied the ground floor of their home – when it was still one, rather cramped little house.
Sharing a fervent interest in contemporary design and architecture, Wehrner and Annette always dreamt of being able to build their own home. They had lived in London for several years and, on returning, ‘weren’t sure we even wanted to settle in PE,’ says Annette. But when they saw the quality of life enjoyed by friends who lived in Chelsea, ‘we knew we needed to be here’.Plans were drawn up by well-known PE architect Adrian Beyleveld of Hix Architects, whose design was informed by the couple’s desire for ‘a long, flat, box-like house’ in the manner of Australian architect Glenn Murcutt. ‘We love concrete, glass and wood,’ says Annette. ‘But the most important element was for it to blend in with the natural surroundings,’ adds Wehrner.
Based on the drawings, the bank would not approve their loan. ‘They didn’t get it,’ says Wehrner, ‘but this was 10 years ago.’ And so their long, flat house became a compact double-storey version. The couple occupied the 40m2 space upstairs, with Wehrner working in the garage below. ‘It was like living in half a house,’ she adds, citing years of sleepless nights until they were ready to continue building, for which they enlisted their friend, architect Quinsley Sale. ‘He was the right guy,’ says Annette – she also put him to work designing Warehouse One, an exciting modern building in Newton Park that she co-owns.‘What needed to be done was quite simple,’ says Quinsley. ‘We began by building a separate garage and a studio for Wehrner.’ It helped, he says, that the couple were ‘creative and open to ideas’. He didn’t want to ‘spoil what was originally there’, designing a complementary structure – his balau ‘box’ – that echoes the surrounding forest. Quinsley describes it as ‘closed and more private, in contrast to the old section, which is very open, with glass throughout’. And while, from the outside, they might appear to be different units, ‘inside it’s one complete space’.
Quinsley worked closely with Wouter van der Westhuizen of Chris Howes Construction (his home nearby was HL’s House of the Month in October 2005). Having built the original house, Wouter ensured continuity between the two spaces, opened up to include a lounge, dining area and kitchen on the ground floor.
What was once an outside staircase leading to the front door now marks where the two houses join, connecting the sunny upstairs quarters – bedrooms and a living room that used to be the kitchen – with the rest of the house. It’s a signifier of how opposites can come together to create nothing less than magic.
Wehrner Lemmer, 041-379-2571; Hix Architects, 041-374-4194, hixarchitects.net; Kiü Architects, 073-907-6025 (Quinsley Sale); Chris Howes Construction, 041-365-2711.
WEHRNER AND ANNETTE’S HOME TRUTHS
We love living where we do because we can watch blue duikers drinking water while we lie in bed with our morning coffee. Our favourite room is our bedroom. My most treasured decorative detail is a piece of art Wehrner made for me – a little panel engraved with a poem he wrote (Annette). My Tolomeo reading lamp (Wehrner). Building our own home has taught us that we’ll probably never do it again! Our definition of style is fresh, clean and honest. I collect skulls and clivias (Wehrner). The best thing about summer is the early light (Annette). I relax by cooking supper for us, always with a glass of red wine (Wehrner). Watching Wehrner cook supper for us (Annette). We like to entertain in late afternoons or early evenings, with all the doors open in summer. My signature dinner-party dish is pasta with chorizo, chicken liver and Moroccan harissa paste (Wehrner). In our fridge you’ll find apples, Rosa tomatoes, avo, smoked chicken and Ataraxia Sauvignon Blanc. My most inspiring place is Namibia (Wehrner). Cape Town (Annette). A furniture designer I like is Haldane Martin (Wehrner). Arne Jacobson for the Egg chair (Annette). My pet design hate is over-designed and cluttered homes (Wehrner). All my money goes on shoes (Annette).
This home was originally featured in the November 2009 issue of House and Leisure.