houses

Double-Volume Joburg Home


Text Bambina Olivares Wise Styling Leana Schoeman Photographs Elsa Young There is grandeur in stateliness, intimacy in small spaces and charm in minimalism, but rare is the house that manages to emanate all three qualities simultaneously, with an ease so natural that it borders on the nonchalant. The Johannesburg home of Xavier and Carine Huyberechts is relatively modest by Houghton standards, yet it somehow possesses a quiet majesty. Perhaps it’s the open-plan, double- volume living room that blends into the rolling garden, blurring the boundaries between indoors and outdoors. Perhaps it’s the soothing uniformity of the all-white colour scheme, anchored by warm woods and brightened by the art-filled walls. Or possibly because it reflects the rigour of the architect’s minimalist aesthetic as well as the rich and seamless tapestry of cultures that define, without pigeonholing, the house’s residents. The couple are expatriates, who have made South Africa their home: Xavier, an architect with GLH & Associates Architects, is Belgian, while his wife, Carine, hails from Burundi. ‘We both arrived in 1994,’ Xavier explains. ‘I came here for an internship, and Carine followed her father, who was working for the UN at the time. And we both loved the country and stayed.’ Eighteen years, three houses and two children later, the Huyberechts family are happily ensconced in what is, in many ways, their dream home. ‘It used to be a typical Houghton stand that was subdivided,’ says Xavier. ‘This was the garden of the big house at the top. It was in a derelict state when we got it. You couldn’t see then what you see now. But what won us over were the trees: four big jacarandas, a chestnut tree, the avocado trees. The rest we added. But the magic of the place was there, and that’s what I fell in love with immediately.’ Although Xavier’s architectural practice is focused mainly on corporate clients, he designed and built this home from scratch. He confesses that a week after arriving in South Africa, almost 10 years before even starting on this house, he had already begun sketching ideas for his ideal home. ‘The idea was there already, to have a house that was completely open to the exterior, where the outside and the inside were blurred, because you don’t have to spend a lot of time here to understand that the climate is incredible, especially when you come from Belgium. You have to take advantage of it, that wealth, the light and the weather.’ ‘We’re very happy here,’ adds Carine, who points out the private, almost pastoral setting of shady trees, green grass and water burbling gently into the raised lap pool. ‘We’re not moving.’ An architect’s home this may be, but it’s no static showcase. On the ground floor, the rooms flow into each other effortlessly, and striking art from the likes of William Kentridge, Kendell Geers and Marco Cianfanelli, as well as Xavier’s own impressive efforts, punctuate the walls and give the house a shot of colour. The same sense of restraint in design, coupled with exuberance in art, continues upstairs, where the bedrooms are, with the master suite connected to the children’s and guest rooms by a raw steel and wire walkway that cleverly echoes a suspension bridge. Despite the crisp minimalism that prevails, this is a house with a nostalgic and sentimental heart. For instance, above the bathtub in the master bathroom are two plaster casts of Carine’s torso while pregnant with their son, Kwame, and daughter, Almaz, reminiscent of primitive African fertility sculptures. ‘There’s no preciousness here,’ Carine says of the house. ‘The children and their friends run and bike all over the place freely, while Xavier often sets up his laptop on the dining table to do some work.’ He concurs, ‘For me, the architecture needs to be a backdrop to our life, our art and the things we love. It’s as simple as that.’ CARINE & XAVIER’S HOME TRUTHS The best thing about living where we do is the nature around us (Carine); living within these surrounds with a family that is fully active in this environment. Having the art around us adds an extra layer to that sense of wellbeing (Xavier). Our favourite room is the living room – the world outside as much as the room itself (Carine); it’s where we live (Xavier). I couldn’t survive without coffee from Burundi! And books (Carine); my family (Xavier). If I were stuck on a desert island I’d have a Swiss knife, though I would have to learn how to use it (Carine); I’d have to teach Carine how to use the Swiss knife. And make the fire! (Xavier) Spending time with your family and friends is a real luxury. So is good food – being able to have a fantastic meal with lovely people. When we entertain we do both formal and relaxed, but we prefer casual (Carine). Our signature dishes are my ratatouille and Xavier’s beef fillet. His marinade is divine. He’s a very creative cook (Carine). In our fridge you’ll find lots of vegetables and fruit, yoghurt and good-quality seasonal produce and products (Carine). Architecturally speaking, I prefer buildings that are well-grounded, where the form and the function are related; I like a certain minimalism to the expression but then I also love some of Frank Gehry’s buildings where there is no minimalism whatsoever, just exuberance (Xavier). I find open spaces and large volumes liberating in a home. It gets those brainwaves stimulated. I’m somebody who needs the space (Xavier). We love travelling, but since the children were born, we travel mostly for family – this year we’re going to Burundi. Otherwise we try to incorporate one interesting, cultural trip a year (Carine). This article was originally featured in the May 2012 issue of House and Leisure.