Hanri and Jacques van Wyngaard are both metallurgical engineers. It’s a job that’s taken them to remote locations on mines around the world where they’ve lived for years at a time in countries including Namibia and, more recently, China. The places may have been interesting and inspiring, but the accommodation less so: mine houses are not renowned for their style and comfort.
So, when they found themselves back in South Africa, and eventually resolved to settle here with their children, Louis, 10, and Kara, eight, they decided to build a home that would be the antidote to the temporary accommodation they’d lived in for so long. They already had a plot of land in Midlands Estate in Centurion, and decided to build their new family home there.
The catch phrase was to be ‘easy living’. ‘We really wanted a single-storey home where everything felt linked,’ Hanri explains. ‘I wanted a house where the kids could run from the pool straight through the house. And I wanted to be able to be aware of what they were doing without having to make an effort.’ With that in mind, Hanri and Jacques approached AJ Smit of Palin and Smit Architects.
AJ deftly negotiated the constraints of a narrow plot and estate restrictions to devise an interesting and clever design, largely understated, but with a few flourishes to make it unique. The house is almost Y-shaped with living spaces that radiate outwards at various angles. Of course, the nexus of the design is the kitchen and dining area. From it, the spare room and garage extend in one direction, the living room in another and a passage with the bedrooms in a third. The layout allows the rooms to capture the north light and creates an axis that means easy lines of sight and a sense of coherence. ‘When you are in the kitchen, you feel like you are in the centre house, connected to everything,’ says Hanri.
Importantly, having the kitchen holding the house together like this allowed for easy entertaining. Despite her initial reservations that a hatch between the kitchen and the patio might seem like a 1970s throwback, the sleek, almost invisible opening meant that Hanri could feel like ‘part of the party’ whether guests were inside or outside with Jacques braaing on the patio. It also opened the kitchen to unexpected views out to the Magaliesberg.
While she says she loved the simplicity of the plain walnut doors, Hanri found the black-and-white hand painted tiles she ordered from Moroccan Warehouse in Cape Town, initially just for a patch behind the stove, so compelling that she kept extending it. ‘I extended it along the wall,’ she says, ‘then around the corner and all the way to the floor, and then continued them above the next counter too… I ordered seven batches!’ The effect is to add a strong, vibrant presence to the area that is the centre of life in the house.
In keeping with her ideal of an easy-living space, the decor is laid back but stylish. ‘I found most of the furniture in second-hand shops,’ says Hanri. ‘I love that moment when you spot a piece in a junk shop and recognize that it’s something special.’ But she doesn’t like to over-think things. ‘I go with the flow and change things as my mood changes,’ says Hanri.
Items from Hanri and Jacques’s travels and a collection of artworks fill the shelves and walls, from drawings Hanri commissioned from a street artist in Beijing to silver neckpieces she loaded into her backpack in Southeast Asia. There are a number of contemporary South African artists including Nicoleen Louw of Bitterkomix fame, and Melanie Stapelberg, as well as a constantly growing collection of vintage landscape paintings Hanri’s collected over the years.
The house is layered and versatile – personal without being precious, relaxed without being chaotic – as a family home should be. It was built for kids and dogs and family life, and is tested against its brief every day, passing with flying colours. Palin and Smit Architects palinsmitarchitects.co.za
HANRI AND JACQUES’ HOME TRUTHS
My top tip for hosting a dinner party is
enjoy it, otherwise no-one else will (Hanri), a fire- to braai on, to sit around, to warm-up the space (Jacques)
Kitchen island or table?
The best thing about our kitchen is
the lovely window that folds away completely and allows me to cook breakfast in the morning breeze at sunrise (Hanri)
The best thing about living where we do is
the proximity to the open veld, to run the dog free (Jacques)
Other than in Centurion, I’d live in
the Namib desert (Jacques)
getting it just right whilst staying true to yourself (Hanri)
My interiors motto is
don’t over think it, don’t lose the soul of it and go with your gut (Hanri)
My favourite piece of design advice is
listen with care, design with purpose and deliver beyond expectation (Jacques)
My favourite room at home is
the stoep (Jacques), the kitchen (Hanri)
My pet design hate is
when appearance surpasses practicality (Jacques), design without purpose (Hanri)
My collection of art
done by friends and all the family collectables handed down to us over the past few years are my favourite things (Hanri)
Our entertaining style is
easy and fresh (Hanri)
My signature dish is
a whole fillet braaied to perfection (Jacques)
My best way to spend a weekend is
somewhere near a mountain stream with the kids playing all day (Jacques)
We lived in Namibia
for a few years and the honesty and openness of the land makes it my favourite place (Hanri)
Originally published in HL April 2015