country, houses

Carefree days in a Modern Irene Barn

Elsa Young


‘We’ve always dreamed of living in a minimalist, contemporary home,’ say Irene-based engineers Philippus and Reani Fouché. After moving out of their ‘very traditional’ house in Waterkloof the couple grabbed the chance to realise their ambition: a sleek, ascetic barn that turns country living on its head. In keeping with its rustic surrounds, the design guidelines for Irene development Southdowns Estate might require adhering to an agricultural vernacular but the couple sought to balance it ‘with a very modern design’, says Philippus. After finding that typical Swedish barn architecture perfectly fitted their vision, they approached Mathews and Associates Architects in Pretoria with a brief to create a Scandinavian farmhouse.

With two engineers checking up on the build every day it was never going to be a slapdash project, and the house took two years to complete. ‘The design phase itself took about a year,’ says Philippus. ‘We kept paring down the original proposal until we had a truly minimalist design.’ Reani is quick to add that they wouldn’t build again in a hurry. ‘My husband is a real stickler for detail, so everything was done exactly as it should be, even if that meant doing it over two or three (or even four) times.’

The Fouchés spend most of their time in the vast garden, which is why they asked Mathews and Associates Architects to create a substantial outdoor entertainment area The Fouchés spend most of their time in the vast garden, which is why they asked Mathews and Associates Architects to create a substantial outdoor entertainment area.

Well worth the wait, the finished house boasts an industrial look with a strong craftsmanship identity thanks to details such as off-shutter concrete elements and corrugated-metal cladding on prominent walls. The lack of windows on the main facade adds to its desirably austere look and feel, which is balanced by an extensive use of wood and neutral hues, in true Scandinavian tradition.

Also in typical Swedish style, the home complies with the latest green building design guidelines. Oversized floor-to-ceiling, north-facing, double-glazed windows ensure optimal utilisation of sun warming during winter. Warm-water underfloor heating and isolation of the floors, walls and roof also help to create a comfortable living space with minimal energy used for heating and cooling.

The home borders the Irene Dairy Farm, giving it a truly bucolic feel. The home borders the Irene Dairy Farm, giving it a truly bucolic feel.

Infatuated as they are with Scandinavian design, Philippus and Reani briefly considered filling their home with Mid-Century Modern classics. ‘In the end, the beautiful contemporary furniture being manufactured in South Africa convinced us to furnish the house exclusively with local pieces,’ says Philippus, citing design names such as Raw Studios, Tonic Design, Ebony and OKHA as far exceeding their expectations.

While the Fouchés bought or commissioned most of the furniture and art, there are hints of a previous life that add a touch of warmth and nostalgia: Philippus’ mother’s stinkwood dining-room table and a riempie bench that belonged to his great grandmother, for example, while a 1936 Pierneef hanging in the cellar proves the couple’s aesthetic is not strictly contemporary. The clean lines of their home afforded Philippus the opportunity to revisit his art collection with the aim of keeping only pieces that complemented the new space. ‘The contemporary design suited the abstract works I’d collected by Fred Schimmel, sculptures by Eduardo Villa, and figurative art by Bettie Cilliers-Barnard and Carl Büchner,’ he says. ‘In addition, we used the opportunity to acquire works by contemporary artists such as Sybrand Wiechers, Diane Victor and Regi Bardavid.’

The home is clad in corrugated metal in the typical style of Swedish barns The home is clad in corrugated metal in the typical style of Swedish barns

It’s the people who truly transform a house into a home, and the Fouchés’ two young daughters, Jeani, six, and Cara, four, have eased right in. ‘I love the size of it,’ says Jeani, who claims her bedroom is the best room in the house. Reani admits that the house has changed the family dynamic somewhat. ‘We were never big entertainers but since moving in we find we invite people around all the time,’ she says. ‘Can you think of anything more unique than having cows graze beside your garden? That’s worth sharing.’ Mathews and Associates Architects.

Originally published in HL March 2013.

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