‘I’ve bought a new house, and I need you to make it beautiful.’ For a seasoned designer such as Johannesburg-based Julia Day of Generation, an open brief such as this offers the rare opportunity to prove her ethos that ‘people can be edified, uplifted and comforted by good design’.
A seasoned traveller, the owner of this home in Houghton, Johannesburg, has a real eye for design and art, and appreciates Julia’s passion for international contemporary design. ‘I would never prescribe a house to anyone, but particularly in this case, the project was a real partnership,’ says Julia.
A major challenge for the project was that the existing structure had several classical elements, which Julia needed to counteract with an interior sparseness that would make it quintessentially modern.
‘I decided to play with the natural light and existing architectural spaces, and to lighten up the architecture with bold finishes,’ she explains.
The reception area is a perfect example of this approach. Julia clad it entirely in timber to create a warm sense of arrival. ‘The look is minimalist, but welcoming,’ she says.
Passing through the entrance, the eye is drawn to the dark granite cladding that spans both the interior and exterior walls, blurring the boundaries between indoors and out. ‘To unfeaturise other elements of the house, we painted the ceilings and walls in the same colour, and used a matt stone flooring throughout, which helps to highlight the cladding,’ says Julia.
When it came to colour, Julia opted for a clean palette that would work well with the architectural slices cutting through the house. ‘We added playful touches, such as a pop of lemon grass against a dark-toned wallpaper, or bright red alongside timber,’ she says.
The furniture throughout the house has a light-on-its-feet aesthetic, with trim and elegant upholstery, and calm, understated colours. ‘We haven’t really “furnished” the space,’ says Julia, explaining that it’s more about acknowledging each piece as a form in its own right. ‘The decor is understated so that the art takes preference.’
Each piece invites closer inspection. The dining room is an ode to the late Italian architect Vico Magistretti. Only original pieces by Magistretti for De Padova are used in this space. He is, Julia says, ‘the master of understatement,’ and the sleek lines of his Vidun table (the first piece Magistretti designed for De Padova) and the unassuming comfort of his Pollock chair are testament to this.
‘The real showpiece, though, is the Tanimoto unit, which Magistretti designed after visiting Japan,’ says Julia, in deference to the bookshelf sitting quietly behind the dining room table. ‘It is quite simply the perfect bookshelf.’ Offering a glimpse into the private life of the client, the unit houses his books, magazines and items collected through travels over the years, adding a personal touch to the sophisticated space.
An essential part of Julia’s intention for the house was to rehang the homeowner’s many art pieces in a way that would give them new meaning. The collection of contemporary and modern art, which includes many large-scale paintings, photographs and sculptures by artists such as Mikhael Subotzky, Lakin Ogunbanwo and Justine Mahoney, provides a focal point wherever you are in the home.
‘Every piece of art in this house is slick with a twist,’ says Julia. ‘The client is a true collector; he doesn’t always tend towards the pretty and comfortable.’
On the subject of comfort, Julia far surpassed the brief of making the house beautiful. ‘This is a lived-in space, with soft pieces and soft light. It’s not a show house, but a functional home, where everything looks beautiful but is equally comfortable,’ she says. ‘For me, good design not only meets a client’s needs, but goes beyond their expectations. Good design meets and matches your lifestyle.’