Zen and Now

A revamped Johannesburg home combines classic and contemporary elements for a pared-down yet elegant aesthetic.

Elsa Young; Styling: Dylan Thomaz

One of the qualities that makes Johannesburg so appealingly livable is its climate. Blessed with sunshine for most of the year, even in the cold winter months, it is an ideal city for people who value the space and freedom of outdoor living.

The quest for this property’s owners, who had previously enjoyed living in an apartment in Istanbul, Turkey, was to find similar accommodation when they moved back to South Africa. But once introduced to this house, behind its typically forbidding Johannesburg walls, they changed their minds, appreciating both its accessible northern suburbs location and its promising stretch of grounds. With two children, they decided that they needed more room than a typical apartment could offer, and soon their idea of flat-dwelling was supplanted by the vision of a freestanding home.

When they bought the house, it was ‘very dull, architect-built and designed, and all beige,’ says Dylan Thomaz, the interior designer behind Studio Dylan Thomaz who was brought in to work on the renovations and decor. The source of much of Thomaz’ inspiration is clear throughout the reinvigorated home. There are echoes of legendary American architect Frank Lloyd Wright everywhere: strong horizontal lines, an open floor plan, and structured and ‘transparent’ spaces that appear limitless, enlivened by plenty of natural light. Rather than creating several smaller rooms, Thomaz demarcated areas within a space by defining each of these using clever decor devices such as carpets and lighting. 

I had to be persuasive with the owners,’ he says with a smile. ‘I was pushing the boundaries a bit – suggesting a black kitchen, for example – but they fundamentally shared my design ethos and were willing to try, and they are delighted with the outcome.

Of the four bedrooms and bathrooms, the master suite is particularly spacious, its standout feature being a custom-made bed. Add striking wood-panelled walls to the mix and the bed feels as though it’s floating. Dressed in grey and white linen, ‘it’s like something out of a Calvin Klein show,’ says Thomaz.

The master bathroom, like several of the other rooms in the house, opens directly out onto the spacious veranda. ‘Being able to step straight into the garden is something that the owners particularly appreciate,’ he says. The garden is formal in design – a deliberate choice, he adds, so as to match the structured, elegant interiors. The planting of trees was favoured over beds of what Thomaz refers to as ‘lollipop flowers’, in order to create the impression of a verdant countryside retreat.

This is clearly a family home that’s easy to prep for frequent entertaining – to wit, the 18-seater table on the patio – which in turn leads directly onto the garden, increasing the sense of unbounded space and of being ‘in’ the outdoors. 

It is clear that with the help of Thomaz, the owners have wholeheartedly embraced their new house, which is about as far from an apartment in Turkey as you can get – and they wouldn’t have it any other way.