When architect Gillian Holl and her husband, Ivan, bought a stand in the grassland surrounds of Monaghan Farm in Gauteng, her abiding enthusiasm for the glass-infill steel structures of 20th century modern architecture finally found a fitting platform for expression.
‘When we visited the estate for the first time my thoughts immediately turned to the expansive vistas of Mies van der Rohe’s New National Gallery in Berlin,’ recalls Gillian.
One of her chief objectives was to capitalise on the natural surrounds. To this end, at the centre of the house, separating the office space from the bedroom wing is a 14m-long open-plan living area enclosed on either elevation by wall-to-wall retractable glass sliding doors. One side frames the entrance courtyard and the other captures fields of grazing Nguni cows and panoramic views of the distant Magaliesburg Mountains.
The kitchen, which lies at the far end of this space, is where Gillian most enjoys spending time with Ivan and their four year-old son, Noah. It’s also the area she feels most successfully materialises her vision of creating an interior that continues the architectural language of the house.
‘Despite being a minimalist at heart I believe in intrinsic detailing,’ she says, referring to the cabinetry’s custom-crafted handles, which were manufactured from recycled steel window frames and designed to reference the profiles of the house’s I- and H-beam framework. A further connection is formed by the glow of kiaat and copper that echoes the tones of the rusted steel panelling on the adjacent exterior wall.
It’s at the entrance, however, that the conversation between exterior and interior reaches its pinnacle with a projecting rammed-earth wall. An as yet uncommon building practice, the construction involved compacting soil excavated on site. The resulting striking colour striations, combined with the earthy hues of the kitchen, introduce subtle warmth to the interior. ‘I realised that in winter, when the intrusive landscape loses its lovely greenness, it would be important to have elements like this to help alleviate the austerity and coldness that a strongly minimalistic aesthetic may create,’ Gillian explains. ‘Ultimately beyond the vision of the design was a home for my family that would be comfortable and inviting.’ And this the home indeed achieves.
Despite the sense of contemporary sophistication cemented immediately at the entrance by an impressive cantilevered concrete slab (Barcelona Pavilion-inspired), whimsical and playful touches in the interior create balance: curiously suspended light fittings, jolts of vibrant colour and seemingly incongruous items of retro furniture.
‘The croaking frogs and jackal calls at night remind us that we’re here because we want to live simply and close to nature, so the last thing we wanted was something pretentious,’ says Gillian.
For the Holls, a key appeal of the estate was its ethos of sustainability. Gillian met the challenge of a design with reduced running costs by orientating the house just off north and employing roof overhangs, which optimise the angle of the winter sun while creepers create shading in summer. ‘Interestingly, one of the issues with the Barcelona Pavilion was the glare created by the granite floor, which made exhibiting problematic,’ Gillian explains. ‘We went with terrazzo floor tiles that absorb the radiating sunlight and release the warmth at night when the temperature drops.’
The home’s ability to retain heat is bolstered by low-emission glass, while solar-powered under-floor heating and two Morsø fireplaces lend additional cosiness in winter. ‘We also have loads of blankets because there’s no better way to warm up than snuggling into one with Ivan and Noah,’ says Gillian.
Gillian Holl, Veld Architects, veldarchitects.co.za