city, houses

A Gathering Space

Elsa Young


It’s the space that grabs your attention first. With its roomy open-plan flow, raised outdoor deck and penthouse-like second floor, it’s hard to believe that you’re in the heart of suburban Parkhurst. Thanks to a clever redesign by architect Joe van Rooyen of JVR Architects and Interiors, this Johannesburg home feels more like a capacious Camps Bay party pad – all that’s missing is the ocean and a mountain or two in the distance.

The main living areas are just a stone’s throw from a greenery-softened furnished deck – accessed via tall glass doors that flood the interior with light. In early summer the deck is a jasmine-scented sanctuary for alfresco dinners, in winter a sheltered, sunny location for the couple’s legendary braais.

‘We love the house to be full of friends and family,’ says owner Nina Morris Lee. ‘The house lends itself to gatherings, yet guests staying over have their own private, secluded space.’

OpenSeasonInsitu1 In the open-plan living room, an arc lamp from Julian Decor (julian.co.za) contrasts with a Michael Methven animal sculpture and a striped rug from Paco (pacorugs.co.za).

Roomy enough for two seating areas, a dining room and the kitchen, the ground floor also houses Nina’s study and two guest bedrooms. ‘Interior-wise it evolved quite naturally,’ she says. ‘Both Cindy and I grew up in homes with a great deal of expression – spaces that said, “Someone lives here, someone’s given it some thought.” ’ Cindy, a director of television commercials, is drawn to straight lines and minimalism, while Nina prefers ‘more of everything’. ‘It’s been a great collaboration and we’ve managed to combine things in a way that happens to work.’

Born in Finland, Nina came to South Africa with her parents in 1970. ‘My father was a great entrepreneur, and for a while he had a shop on Parkhurst’s 4th Avenue selling Finnish glassware and furniture. It would have been in huge demand today,’ she says. While Nina admires Scandinavian design, she’d rather live with a few key pieces than be surrounded by this pared-down aesthetic. ‘Cindy’s style is far more suited to that sparse neutrality,’ she says, ‘whereas I’m a tragic sentimentalist with a tendency to collect things. I’ve been told on several occasions to tone it down!’

OpenSeasonInsitu3 The couple love to entertain, both indoors and out.

With effortless flair, the couple have mixed vintage, modern and classic pieces. Art plays an important role, with paintings by Fatima Fernandes and Walter Battiss and photographs by Oliver Nurock. The result is quirky and colourful, comfortable and inviting – the kind of home where you can kick off your shoes amid the easy-going glamour. One of Nina’s favourite things is the pair of 1950s armchairs that belonged to her parents – the original upholstery now back in fashion. Then there’s Cindy’s life-size paper leopard that she’s had ‘forever,’ and a retro standing lamp with bright orange shades that was bought in the United States.

‘We both love colour,’ says Nina, ‘and we enjoy juxtaposing different eras and styles.’

Upstairs, occupying the entire top floor is a luxurious bedroom suite. The palette here is tranquil, a celebration of textures and subtlety. ‘This area was all about creating a feeling of space, and strong colour didn’t seem right,’ says Nina. ‘We wanted a sense of quiet – it really is a place for reflection at the end of a busy day.’

OpenSeasoninsitu2 The luxurious master bedroom has a chandelier from Loads of Living (loadsofliving.co.za) and bedside tables from Weylandts. The carpet is from Millar's Oriental Carpets.

Over weekends, the deck is the only place to be. ‘We love cooking and entertaining, and right now I’m completely Yotam Ottolenghi bedondered,’ says Nina, referring to the renowned Israeli-born chef. ‘His Middle Eastern inspired recipes are insanely delicious!’

As the sun dips below the rooftops, this house truly comes into its own. Airy and welcoming, filled with friends, family and good food, ‘it’s a place to be quiet, or not so quiet. It truly is our castle,’ says Nina.

JVR Architects: joevanrooyen.co.za


See architect Joe van Rooyen's own Parktown home in our June 2016 issue.