‘Building your own home is every architect’s nightmare,’ says Dave Barrow with a rueful smile. ‘It’s your exhibition piece and you’re judged by it.’ Small wonder that it was only two years after the accomplished Durban architect and his photographer wife, Angela Buckland, bought a ‘dream investment property’ high on the hip of Durban’s Berea for themselves and their children, Christine, 12, and Nikki, 14, that he finally decided to develop it.
There were tenants in the original house that squatted in the centre of the site, but one night they received an invitation to a party at the neighbours’ house. ‘It was a beautiful evening, the city lights and stars were all on, and the view was breathtaking,’ says Dave. ‘I thought, darn it, I’m going to demolish and build!’
The challenges were considerable. ‘The property is long, narrow and faces east, with a steep climb from the road below. And the view was key, so it seemed obvious to face the front of the house towards this, but it fitted the site better side-on.’ Dave’s solution was to build that way, with only the master bedroom and lounge end of the house directly over the view, but to run a massive veranda off the downstairs living area and open big balconies off the bedrooms above.
‘Wherever you are in the house, you’re just a step from this cityscape – you can see all the way from Moses Mabhida Stadium to Bayhead,’ he says with quiet satisfaction. ‘But on the KZN coast you need a veranda anyway. The house where you sleep is actually secondary – you want to bring the outdoors in, and catch the breeze. The veranda is where everything must happen.’
Dave refined the design to a simple series of rectangular boxes. The veranda, pool and balconies form a ‘light box’, he explains. Alongside this an open-plan lounge flows into a dining, kitchen and family area in a ‘living box’, and opening off this, thescullery, toilets, bathrooms and stairs form a ‘service box’. An ‘interconnecting box’ runs across all three, from the verandas and balconies on one side of the house to the stairway on the other.
Simplicity also drove the materials Dave used, along with functionality and cost. The ground floor slab soffit is made of off-shutter concrete, as are the downstairs floors, and has been inlaid with white stones and ground smooth. The upstairs floors and stairs are of pine, salvaged from the original house and sanded – ‘I love the lightness, warmth and feel of wood under your feet,’ says Dave. ‘Carpets don’t seem right at the coast.’ Window frames and bathroom fittings are mostly demolition-site finds, and the tiles are run-offs (‘they’re cost effective and they add character’).
Furnishing their new home has been as challenging as designing it. ‘Our last place was an Edwardian renovation Dave did, and only some of the pieces worked in a contemporary setting,’ Angela explains. They’ve improvised and gradually replaced or reworked pieces – grouping lights that hung one to a room in the old house to form a striking chandelier above the dining table, and lending new life to old sofas and armchairs with edgy cushions and slipcovers.
‘The only things we’ve really spent on have been artworks,’ Angela says, and many are gifts from artist friends or ‘trades’ for her own award-winning photographs, collections of which colour the walls. Walls have been kept off-white and charcoal as a foil for these and for what remains the focus of this extraordinary house – that view.
‘Waking up to it is such a great start to the day,’ says Dave, toasting it now with iced tea. ‘You’re reminded that however tough it may be, there’s a fantastic world out there.’
ANGELA & DAVE’S HOME TRUTHS
The best thing about late summer is the prospect of Durban weather and surf in May (Dave); the promise of autumn with its spectacular light (Angie). What I love most about living here is the view; I sometimes feel suspended from the sky (Angie). My favourite room in our home is our bedroom. It’s a sanctuary of peace – I watch birds flying in front of and below me from my bed (Angie). My style is simple, well considered, functional. I like classic design, with no fussy decoration (Dave); home -made and fun (Angie). I’m inspired by the rich, varied southern African landscape and the people who live here (Dave); our family road trips (Angie). The first thing I do when I get home is have a cup of tea on the veranda (Dave); greet the dogs and talk to the cats (Angie). My favourite way to relax is with music, girlfriends and laughter! (Angie); I don’t know how to! But during holidays at home I make things (Dave). The best way to spend a weekend is chilling at our beach cottage; we’ll eat simply, cooking from the sea, using whatever’s available (Angie). I think up my best ideas while I take the dogs for their evening walk in the park (Dave). My signature dish is crab curry and mussel soup (Angie). A place I dream about is the Richtersveld – the extreme, wildly diverse landscape and the spectacular succulents (Dave); the Vumba mountains where I grew up in Zimbabwe (Angie). What I love most about Durban architecture is its honesty and limited pretentiousness (Dave). On my bedside table I have a copy of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks (Angie).
This article was originally featured in the May 2012 issue of House and Leisure.
Styling Margie Howard