houses

Natural Westcliff Pavilion

This Westcliff pavilion, designed by Silvio Rech Lesley Carstens Architecture and Interiors, is set on what is essentially a rocky highveld koppie. The owners wanted a place, separate from their house, where they could relax and entertain, and where guests or visiting family members could stay. Silvio and Lesley took the natural setting as the starting point of the design. They decided to open the pavilion to the changing natural scene and stripped its form down to a simple glass box. Silvio and Lesley juxtaposed the form with elements of what they call ‘rustic materiality’. ‘It’s like a pure modernist building, but instead of concrete, we’ve used railway sleepers,’ explains Silvio. ‘The owners didn’t want it to look like a new building. They wanted it to feel warm and to look old and weathered.’ Perhaps the most striking feature of the house is the rammed earth wall that runs its length, plunging into the indoor pool and re-emerging downstairs. ‘We tried to marry the glass box and the rammed earth using primal elements in a modern way,’ says Silvio. The rusted metal of the outside wall and gate, the rock, the rammed earth, the water of the indoor pool, the fireplaces and the ironwood sleepers all display the materials in their natural state, but take on a sleek minimalism in their design. The building’s most significant connection with archetypal highveld veranda houses is the way it reinterprets their distinctive long, wide stoeps. Its deck and fireplace are contemporary ways of accommodating the kind of outdoor entertaining that stoeps traditionally cater for. The materials usually associated with verandas, such as the corrugated iron of their awnings and their cement floors, have been picked up in the rainwater collection tank and the cement screed floors to the main indoor area. Elsewhere, unexpected materials have been used for ordinary objects. A chromed wheelbarrow and shovel, for instance, add an element of glamour to the act of lighting a fire. Despite its apparent simplicity, the pavilion is technologically sophisticated. The modern, minimalist kitchen all but disappears in its clean, simple lines. Throughout, custom-made white cabinets that conceal appliances and provide storage have been incorporated into the architecture. ‘The perfection of the details keeps the space exceedingly calm,’ says Silvio. The furnishings and interior design aim, in a number of ways, ‘to suck nature into the building’. The Albert Redelinghuis tapestry above the bed downstairs reflects the landscape outside. ‘It’s as if the colours pour out of it into the colours of the bedding and soft furnishings,’ says Silvio. The furniture draws on a library of designs that Silvio and Lesley have developed over the course of their career. Some of it, such as the giant ironwood dining-room table, was created for this pavilion. Other pieces recall old South African designs and extend the farmhouse references. The whale backbone sculpture by Silvio and Lesley above the pool is probably the single element that best embodies the ethos of the house, and is one of its most dramatically animating elements. It captures a sense of movement and transports its viewers. ‘This pavilion was conceptualised and intended as an escape, where the owners would feel connected with nature,’ explains Silvio. ‘When you’re swimming in the pool, with the rough wall, it really feels as if you’re in the mountains – it’s both completely removed and  refreshing.’ Q&A With Silvio & Lesley What does luxury mean to you? A design situation that preempts and soothes your every need, both mental and physical (Silvio); linen sheets from Ivano Redaelli (Lesley). What inspires you? Iconic designs that have stood the test of time (Silvio); Rick Joy’s desert houses, working with natural materials – big slabs of wood, chunks of stone and bales of fabric (Lesley). Favourite buildings? The Eiffel Tower (Silvio); Peter Zumthor’s chapel in Germany – Cappella di San Nicola de Flue – a rammed-earth monolith that captures the essence of meditation and worship (Lesley). Best piece of design advice? Tough it out and stay true to your purist intentions (Silvio); keep the essence of your idea clear (Lesley). Where do you think up your best ideas? In a quiet, peaceful environment – probably in an aeroplane (Silvio); ideally on a morning walk, but normally pressure and deadlines are the best motivator (Lesley).

Silvio Rech and Lesley Carstens Architects and Interiors, 011-486-1525, adventarch@mweb.co.za.

This article was originally featured in the August 2011 issue of House & Leisure.