houses

Joburg City Penthouse

Text Danielle Weakley Styling Leana Schoeman, Heather Boting Photographs Elsa Young In a nondescript 1970s building, sandwiched between the monolithic Home Affairs Department and Joburg Metro Traffic on the corner of Harrison and Plein Streets, you’ll find the home of financial services’ project manager John Clark and his vivacious partner, beauty therapist Alicia Thompson. Their two-storey conversion on the top floors of Anchor Towers in downtown Jozi, however, is anything but bland – it’s a sleek and contemporary dwelling that exudes warmth. ‘I always wanted to live in a city, and Joburg is beautiful,’ says Hermanus-raised John. ‘It’s an exciting time to be in the city because so much is changing and improving. It may be happening in fits and starts but Joburg is only going in one direction, and that’s up.’ He bought the two previously separate units seven years ago but only began renovations in late 2007, with the help of architect Charles Jackson. They gutted the place entirely, and built two en- suite bedrooms and a lounge on the first floor with a stairwell to the second storey. The upstairs area now boasts a kitchen, a dining room, an en-suite guest bedroom and the all-important wraparound roof deck, complete with retractable glass shutter doors, potted garden, pool, outside shower and an enviable 270-degree view. To make the most of the views, they’ve used lots of glass paired with grey concrete screed floors. ‘It means you can be comfortable coming in from the pool with wet feet,’ quips Alicia. ‘The look and feel is exactly what I wanted,’ says John. ‘It emphasises the features of town – the “wow” view – and makes for a comfortable living space. I do lean towards minimalist features and this is an inner-city building, so it lends itself to neat lines.’ Alicia mischievously adds, ‘John wanted a space that wouldn’t detract from the art.’ John loves South African contemporary art and has been collecting it over the years. Today, his art collection includes works by Sabelo Mlangeni, Conrad Botes, Guy Tillim and Jane Alexander. Despite being open to the sky and its surroundings, the penthouse offers complete privacy. At the same time, being up there offers a unique connection to the city. Alicia, who had always lived in houses before moving to an inner-city rooftop, says that she loves the sense of perspective. ‘You can see around you and where you fit into the grid,’ she says. ‘It’s stunning.’ ‘I thought we’d lose our connection with nature, having been in the suburbs with birds and trees,’ says John. ‘But what has surprised us is the new connection we have with the stars and the rising and setting of the moon.’ John says that Joburg is the nicest place he’s ever lived. Alicia is equally enthusiastic: ‘We feel like we’re part of something – there’s an energy and a community – and we have a social life within walking distance of our front door.’ Yes, really. This summer, if you don’t find John lazing in his pool eyrie with a book and a drink, you might bump into the pair strolling through the city en route to The Guildhall – Joburg’s oldest pub – or dinner at an Afro-rustic bolt hole in Little Addis. As John’s Cape-based septuagenarian aunt tells everyone: ‘Joburg city is South Africa’s best kept secret.’ From this lofty perch above the city skyline, we can’t help agreeing. Charles Jackson Architects, charlesjackson.co.za.

John and Alicia's Home Truths

The best thing about living where we do is the view, and the city sights and smells (John); privacy (Alicia). Modern style is all about simplicity and neat lines (John); individuality (Alicia). My secret talent is packing cupboards (Alicia); avoiding housework (John). We’re inspired by the social life in the CBD – the Rand Club, Guildhall, Troyeville Hotel, Ansteys Building, Park Station. If our home was on fire I’d grab as many pictures off my walls as I could carry (John); John (Alicia). Books on my bedside table include Chomsky on Anarchism by Noam Chomsky (John); Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyer and Busy Woman Seeks Wife by Annie Sanders (Alicia). We love entertaining out on the deck with a braai and an ice-cream station, music pouring out of the speakers, and people jumping in and out of the pool. My signature dish is lamb chops on the braai (John); dhal curry (Alicia). Our favourite restaurants are Lucky Bean in Melville, Cranks in Rosebank and Salvation Café at 44 Stanley. Braai on the beach or picnic in the park? Picnic in the park. Our best piece of design advice is to have patience. Don’t rush any decisions. Renovating our home has taught me to trust my instincts (John). We’re looking forward to our first Christmas in the apartment. This article was originally featured in the October 2011 issue of House and Leisure.