houses, Indoor / Outdoor

A Home that Blurs the Lines

Elsa Young


A chance to update one of the first houses he designed gave Pretoria architect Thomas Gouws an opportunity to revisit his formative style.

Two years ago, when DC and Celeste Bezuidenhout decided it was time to update their Irene home, they called on architect Thomas Gouws, who had designed it for them 13 years before. At the time their son Gerard, now 15, was a toddler, and Celeste was still pregnant with 14-year-old Anika.

‘This was my second project after I established my own practice,’ recalls Thomas. DC’s mother had spotted a house in Mooikloof, Pretoria, while they were looking for an architect, and recommended they look at it. ‘The house in Mooikloof was my first,’ says Thomas.

Although the house is an early example of Thomas’s work, it has all the hallmarks of his approach: The transparency, the simple, clean lines, the openness, the site-sensitive design, the strong connection to the landscape, and the unadorned, neutral finishes that belie a rich combination of textures and materials.

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The rules of the estate specified farm-style architecture, so Thomas built within the restrictions, developing steeply pitched, corrugated-iron roofs and voluminous interior spaces – but he worked in modernist elements, too. ‘I like minimalist design,’ says DC. ‘The idea was a minimalist interpretation of a barn-style house,’ says Thomas. But style was the least of his concerns.

‘A lot of the design was directed by the views and the steep slope,’ says Thomas. The house overlooks a rocky ridge that was once a quarry (which DC remembers swimming in as a child), with natural highveld landscape between and beyond. Thomas designed the house as much to draw in the landscape as to facilitate a seamlessly indoor-outdoor lifestyle.

To us, indoor-outdoor living means family time, enjoying every moment of every day. - Celeste

The entrance, which is essentially a glass box, barely disguises it’s modernist character. ‘It’s designed to focus on the view as you come in,’ says Thomas. And once inside you immediately find yourself looking out over a pool, which draws your eye along its length, while the uncertain water’s edge created by the rim-flow blurs the distinction between landscape and building. From the moment you walk in, your eye and mind are outside.

Likewise, the stoep and pool deck are seamless extensions of the indoors spaces. You barely detect the distinction as you move between indoor areas which lead to covered outdoor spaces and then open to the sky. ‘We’re almost permanently outside,’ says Celeste. ‘The outside table was custom made for our family, so it seats 14 people.’

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The alterations, in many ways, emphasised aspects of the home’s existing character rather than changing it. One tweak, for example, involved replacing the old stacking patio doors with sliding doors that disappear in the wall cavities, making the transition from indoor to outdoor space even less noticeable. They added an extra floor to one downstairs room to create a formal lounge above with sweeping views of the quarry and direct access to the pool deck. Most of the labour, though, is hidden, and involved lightening the carbon footprint of the house – replacing windows with double glazing, adding solar geysers, and energy-efficient heating and lighting systems. ‘I wanted to do my bit for greener living,’ says the nature-loving DC.

'Nature inspires me.' - Celeste

The interior updates were carried out by Thomas’s wife and business partner, interior architect Sureen Gouws. Sureen says that she selected furnishings to complement the home’s modern character. ‘We’ve gone with simple, elegant lines and tried to keep every item purpose-driven,’ she says. Around the house you’ll find the hallmarks of Mid Century design in bent steel and leather, blended artfully with contemporary pieces. The refinement and elegance is animated with pops of colour.

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DC and Celeste have planted over 250 trees (‘120 of them in the past year,’ he says) and, as the building process involved substantial excavations – ‘we had to cut and fill a lot,’ says Thomas – the landscaping and garden are an integral part of the architecture. The distinction between building and garden, and then between garden and the landscape beyond is utterly blurred, too. The DNA of the views runs into every aspect of this home, which, with its substantial greening, is more in tune with its environment than ever. tgarchitects.co.za

Styling by Leana Schoeman

This article originally appeared in HL October 2015