I do a double take as I enter the Parktown home of artist Clive van den Berg and pianist Rocco de Villiers. Just beyond the pool, drenched in late-winter sun, there’s a new addition – a glass-and-stone kitchen with a soaring pitched roof. When I first saw this house several years ago (see HL April 2012), this sleek, metal-framed box of a space did not exist. And what’s so extraordinary is that it looks as though it’s been here for years. ‘It’s a complete indulgence,’ says Clive, running a hand over the gleaming marble countertop. ‘I love to cook and I wanted a space that overlooked the garden and resonated with our love of modernism.’
The new kitchen reads as a modern living room – Clive and Rocco imagined the space to be both relaxed and social. ‘We had the two Le Corbusier chairs and the leather sofa, and the latter has proved to be the perfect place for a Sunday afternoon nap,’ he says. While architect Nabeel Essa’s sensitive approach respects the building’s 1913 dateline, this seamless extension projects a timeless modernity. ‘It’s a heritage home so we kept the outside stone walls, incorporating them into the interior,’ adds Clive. Pure-white epoxy floors are a glossy, low-maintenance and light-enhancing accent that’s used throughout much of the home.
At its heart, this house is an unfussy and solid shingle-roofed stalwart with its roots firmly in the Arts and Crafts movement. It was designed by architect Robert Howden, who worked with Sir Edwin Lutyens on the Johannesburg Art Gallery. ‘When we first saw it in 2001, it was a complete mess,’ admits Clive. ‘But because I work with space I could see its qualities – it’s got fantastic bones and it’s inherently rational; nothing about it is superfluous.’ The couple spent six months renovating the house, restoring the antiquated plumbing and electrical wiring, and paring it back to its original shell.
‘It suits us,’ says Clive. ‘We like to entertain and here we have a wonderful variety of spaces to do that.’ One of them is undoubtedly the new courtyard – a sunny nook between the original house and the new kitchen that’s perfect for sundowners or a lazy lunch.
Clive’s work as a painter and sculptor plays out in his studio, a south-facing space that looks directly towards the city. Picture windows fill the space with light and the walls are lined with a number of vibrant oil paintings – part of Clive’s preparation for an upcoming exhibition. ‘I like working from home. The studio is detached from the house and I find it easy to compartmentalise my time; to shut the door and separate the two.’ A set of wood-carving tools lies on the bench, each neatly slotted into a suede-lined pouch. A small figure is beginning to emerge from a block of jelutong wood, delicate yet robust, its limbs and clothing beautifully proportioned.
Much like the main house, the studio exudes a tangible sense of calm. For Clive, however, this space represents just one aspect of a broad skill set. ‘I realised a long time ago that working only as a studio-based artist was not for me. I needed public engagement and direct contact with collaborators such as architects and curators.’ As a managing design partner at his firm Trace, Clive has collaborated on many museum and heritage projects including Freedom Park, Nelson Mandela Foundation exhibitions and the museums at Constitution Hill.
Back inside, we return to the sunny kitchen, wandering past Rocco’s piano and single-malt collection. There’s a distinctive gallery-like quality to the space, with artworks and furniture curated with powerful restraint. A French sofa in the original living room is all elegant curves and grey velvet – a genteel foil to the high ceilings and modern timber server. ‘It’s utter madness, but we’re thinking of breaking through the bedrooms upstairs and creating one spectacular big suite,’ says Clive. As with the new glass-and-steel kitchen, the evolution is ongoing. clivevandenberg.com; goodman-gallery.com; nabeelessa.com; tracegroup.co.za
Originally published in HL August 2016