modernist joburg house

Text Bambina Olivares Wise Styling Leana Schoeman Photographs Elsa Young Take an interior decorator-furniture maker couple with a penchant for pure and streamlined design. Throw in an empty plot in Forest Town, Johannesburg. Add an architectural firm known for its seamless blend of intimacy and urbanity. The result is a home that is spectacularly spare and modernist in inspiration, yet surprisingly warm and earthy in feel. The sober concrete exterior of Lee-Ann Bell and Marcus Pieterse’s house, almost fortress-like in appearance, broken only by slats of wood and a row of glass, barely hints at what is inside. Nor does the ground level of the house, which contains a home office. It is only on mounting the staircase that leads up from the entrance hall that you are greeted by the unexpected vista of green – a particularly verdant expanse of trees, grass, vines and moss. ‘The idea was that this was supposed to be a surprise. You don’t expect this when you walk upstairs,’ says Lee-Ann, who owns Greenside-based interior design consultancy and furniture shop, Mezzanine. ‘It’s almost like a hidden garden, and the house, in essence, was designed around this.’ Lee-Ann and her partner, Marcus, owner and acclaimed designer of MAKE furniture, called in Pierre Swanepoel of StudioMAS to create a home that would reflect their mutual preference for simplicity and stylishness with more than a dash of soul. ‘This is the look we are all about: clean, simple and fuss-free, really.’ She explains that the house was deliberately positioned at the edge of the property, in order to create room for a courtyard inside, with the garden as the focal point. The entire main floor of the house, which holds the living and dining areas as well as the kitchen, is orientated towards the garden. The landscape designer, incidentally, was the architect’s wife, Sonia Swanepoel. While the house’s staunch modernist vibe can seem rather severe at times – both Lee-Ann and Marcus cite Mies van der Rohe as an inspiration and influence – it is softened by the lushness of the garden, the deep, warm sheen of the wooden cabinetry and furniture, mostly from MAKE, and the sudden splashes of colour provided by the couple’s collection of contemporary South African art. There is a series of figures by Claudette Schreuders, and works by Cecil Skotnes and Zander Blom, among others. And of course there is the purring of the magnificent Russian Blue cats, Mischa and Koushka, who are the true ladies of the manor. ‘They’re very spoiled. They love to lounge on the designer chairs,’ Lee-Ann admits with a giggle. In the bedroom suite upstairs, a wall of slate blue breaks the otherwise neutral palette and echoes the blue glass collection Lee-Ann has amassed over the years. Another of her prized collections – rustic and whimsical plates picked up on travels abroad – is grouped on a wall in the bathroom. She recounts, ‘It started with a trip to London, when I bought one at a vintage store, so now every time I go overseas, I pick up a plate or two. Whether from London, Paris or Amsterdam, each has a story.’ A defining feature of the house is the use of long, low windows running across the wall. In the main level, it runs parallel to the garden, situated at floor-to-knee level. ‘It’s like bringing the outdoors in,’ says Lee-Ann, ‘without sacrificing our privacy.’ In the bedroom, the row of windows is placed along the centre of the wall. ‘The rationale behind this was to get the best view of the garden from the vantage point of the bed. So this is the view that you wake up to in the mornings when you’re lying in bed.’ Greeted by greenery in the garden, showering under the light of the moon and a canopy of stars in the bathroom… There’s no doubt that, in this home, a deeply poetic soul lurks underneath the modernist’s heart.;

Marcus & Lee-Ann’s Home Truths

In 2012 I’ll be bringing in apple green and blue on furniture and homeware at Mezzanine, and I think vintage will still be big (Lee-Ann). We both love Forest Town. It has established trees and there are loads of people walking and running in the streets. My favourite room is the home office in the afternoon – the light filters through the slatted gate (Marcus); the lounge, on the couch facing the garden (Lee-Ann). Our interiors motto is less is more. Our style is simple, with clean lines and natural materials. My favourite piece of design advice is buy once for life (Lee-Ann). Our pet design hate is over-design and decoration. I’m inspired by vintage furniture (Lee-Ann); design blogs (Marcus). I think up my best ideas at my desk with my Moleskine notebook (Marcus); in the bath (Lee-Ann). My most treasured furniture pieces are our dining chairs; I bought them for R700 each from a shop in Bergbron in Joburg (Lee-Ann). Our most rash purchase is the land we built on. Our entertaining style is casual. We both enjoy cooking and, as our kitchen is open to the rest of the house, it ends up being a relaxed affair with friends gathering around the counter with a glass of wine. My best way to spend a weekend is on my bicycle (Marcus); lying on the couch, reading (Lee-Ann). Our most inspiring place is Paris; we go there for the Maison&Objet exhibition and we love exploring the latest restaurants and shops. My new year’s resolution is to launch Mema, our children’s range (Lee-Ann); to make decisions in 30 seconds (Marcus).   This article was originally featured in the Jan/Feb 2012 issue of House and Leisure.