houses

entertainer's home

Text Roberta Coci Styling Leana Schoeman Photographs Elsa Young Johannesburg couple Maurice and Jennifer Katz are great entertainers. So while they were happy to move to a cluster development for several years after their children left home, living in a small space was never going to work for them long term. They recently decided that they once again wanted a house in which the children (grandchildren, this time) could run around and where they’d freely be able to invite large groups of friends over. The couple found a small piece of land in Houghton and, while they knew building a large home on a space not much bigger than a tennis court wasn’t going to be easy, they also knew their son, architect Gregory Katz, would be up for the task. And indeed, once he saw the 20m-wide piece of land, Gregory recognised that the small size would end up being the house’s biggest asset. Because of his parents’ love of entertaining, Gregory knew he needed to create as open a space as possible on the limited land available. His primary influence for the house was modernist architect Mies van der Rohe’s famous glass structure, the Farnsworth House in Illinois, US. ‘I took that glass box and just wrapped it around this courtyard,’ Gregory explains, pointing to the centre of the house. The result is astonishing, as the Katz house has been transformed into a canvas for light and air. In fact, on summer days the three glass walls of the living room can be completely removed, leaving the furniture, quite literally, in the garden. Gregory explains that he could create all these wide-open spaces by building right up to the border of the land. As well as being a clever use of space, this has the added advantages of maximising the house’s security and making it feel less isolated. ‘The way this house is built means it forms its own boundary, as its double-storey walls seal up the space, doing away with additional borders around the perimeter,’ he adds. Gregory is a great advocate of courtyards, both for social and safety reasons. ‘Different cultures have been using them as a form of security for centuries,’ he says. This is because they create a secure, protected space, which you can open up, even for night- time entertaining, without feeling exposed.’ When the Katzes recently had 40 people over for dinner, the house didn’t feel at all crowded, thanks to the courtyard and the staggered shape of the home. What’s more, because it’s possible to see the entire house from the kitchen, the couple didn’t feel isolated while they were cooking for their guests. While Gregory treated his parents as regular clients, he admits that he had a more sympathetic ear than usual when working on this house. He pretty much had free rein to experiment with his love of materials. ‘I like to take mundane objects and use them in a new, refreshing way,’ he explains. The base of the staircase, which is made of plywood, is a striking example of this, as are the huge concrete slabs Gregory used as flooring. Interesting touches such as street-kerbing, airbricks, exposed concrete beams and patches of facebrick are typical of Gregory’s signature, rough-edged style. Together with his parents’ minimal furniture and artwork, these touches transform the angular structure into a striking and inviting home. But the most notable feature of this house is undoubtedly the way it unites the family. The home has become a central meeting point where all three generations come together on afternoons and weekends, ensuring that the ever-growing family remains as tightly bound as the house itself. Gregory Katz Architecture, 083-444-5515, gregorykatz.co.za Q&A WITH GREGORY KATZ What significant design trends do you foresee for 2012? Faceted objects and symmetry are making a comeback. What’s the most exciting project you’ve worked on? Every project is a gift and I become excited about any design challenge. Recently I designed a postbox for a client. That was cool. And the building you wish you had designed? The Beinecke Rare Book Library at Yale by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. Do you collect anything? Casio watches. What’s your best design advice? Get rid of it. And your pet design hate? Anthropomorphism, as in utensils that look like people (sorry, Alessi and Carrol Boyes). Your favourite travel destination? New York. Do you have a secret talent? Burping babies. Which designers do you have your eye on this year? UK architect David Kohn, Joburg painter Mary Wafer, Cape Town furniture designers Pedersen + Lennard and jewellery designers Philippa Green and Ida Elsje. Least favourite trend? Cluster developments – suburban housing enclaves are so last century; we should be looking at mixing the uses, such as retail, commercial office, eateries, light manufacturing and residential in one development. It’s also important to get the ratios right. For example, there aren’t enough people living at Melrose Arch to make it feel urban. Something you’d like to see more of in local architecture? Humble facades. So much Joburg architecture is attention-seeking. It’s neoclassical and embellished in a way that was fine 50 or 60 years ago, but that just looks ostentatious now. This article was originally featured in the Jan/Feb 2012 issue of House and Leisure.