Simple Pleasures: an Architectural Home in Bloemfontein

This architectural gem of a home in Bloemfontein is an ode to modesty and simplicity in design – no wonder its devoted owners are determined not to change a thing.

Micky Hoyle

Tucked discreetly into part of a larger property that features a classic old Bloemfontein mansion, this modest two-bedroom home in Waverley was designed by late architect Barend ‘Bannie’ Britz for himself and his wife Almud in 1998. In 2000, Britz won a well-deserved South African Institute of Architects (SAIA) Merit Award for its design. And in 2015, current owners Johan Olwage and Janus Pretorius purchased the house from Almud Britz, having fallen head over heels for the small but perfectly formed structure.

‘An attentive property agent who understood that we were not looking for a conventional townhouse established contact with [Almud], who had decided to move to a retirement home,’ says Janus. ‘She was aware of how much I respected her husband’s work and insisted that we should be the next owners.’ 

Johan and Janus moved into the space in January 2016, and set about furnishing it in a way they felt suited its unique, pared-back character. There was no question of doing any alterations. ‘The original inside wall colours have been retained,’ says Janus. ‘The kitchen cupboards and countertops need to be replaced, but we’ll aim for it to remain as close as possible to the original design – and the same applies to updating the tiles in the bathrooms.’ They will approach both projects, he adds, in close consultation with an architect who is sensitive to the existing finishes.

Adding furniture and art to a home like this is no easy task, as Janus and Johan have discovered. ‘The architecture is quite strong and unconventional and we deliberately “toned down” and avoided overly decorative pieces,’ says Janus. ‘However, completing the interior and acquisition of art is a slowly evolving project. We admire good design and have acquired pieces designed by Antonio Citterio, Jasper Morrison, Vico Magistretti, Inga Sempé and Christian Ghion.’

These minimalist, clean-lined pieces work perfectly in the unfussy yet characterful interiors. Inside, the spaces are intimate rather than expansive, and the materials that have been used are modest and largely natural: there are simple slate floors, ‘honeycomb’ inside walls in untreated brick, and wood panelling on ceilings and the stairway that leads up to the mezzanine study-cum-TV room above the living area. As Janus puts it, ‘extravagance of any kind was clearly avoided by the architect’. Glass panels and glass doors are used throughout too, subtly opening the interiors to the eye and creating a feeling of spaciousness and flow. 

The house is remarkably easy to live in while also being ‘an exciting place to return to’, says Janus. It radiates relaxed warmth, yet is also calming and tranquil. He adds that it ‘never fails to elicit a response [from visitors]. Most express their delight, while architects comment on the fantastic quality of the plaster work and meticulous detailing.’ As Janus and Johan have found, the hidden gems of South African domestic architecture might not be very easy to unearth, but when they are located, they are most definitely worth treasuring. 

Homeowner Johan Olwage