Boxing Clever on Waterkloof Ridge
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Leon Roper and Andria Grobler bought the house because of its spectacular views from Waterkloof Ridge north over Pretoria, and its huge 6 000m2 stand, which offers plenty of space for their two children, Christopher, six, and Elizabeth, four, to play. But the house itself was far from what they had in mind.
‘I wanted a sleek modern block with a flat roof,’ explains Leon. The steep-pitched roof, step-fronted facade with awnings and terracotta-tiled patio couldn’t have been further from that. ‘But I could see that the house had a block in it somewhere,’ he says.
The Ropers enlisted the help of architect Bryan Dunstan of BD Studio to unlock the modern block that Leon had in mind. The view and orientation of the house were both to the north, so the house was already well positioned. It had enough space to suit the Ropers, too, so there was no need to add rooms.
‘Nothing was added or taken away from the footprint,’ says Bryan. But the facade was ‘busy’, and Bryan strives for ‘quiet’. ‘We wanted to clean it up and make it look more congruous,’ he says.
They immediately lifted off the offending roof, which freed space and views upstairs, and replaced it with a flat roof.
They straightened out the stepped facade with a balcony, introducing the simplicity and visual calm Bryan strives for. One of his trademarks is what he calls the ‘rigorous spatial and geometric ordering’ that structures his work. In this case, it was a matter of finding or unlocking the geometry of the house and expressing it in the facade.
Where a separate cottage had been added, slightly different in style from the rest of the house, Leon explains, ‘We had to build out and integrate it with the rest of the building.’ What he calls the ‘question mark’, a zigzag element on the facade, integrates the buildings while also adding a subtle dynamism.
Perhaps the most structurally radical transformation was the decision to lift the beam between the ground and first floor, making it possible to raise the sliding doors all the way to the ceiling. The beam previously came down to the height of a standard door, cutting off a substantial part of the view. Replacing it with a ‘standing beam’ had a significant effect on the quality of the downstairs living area.
Apart from that and a few other minor changes, the interior spaces remain largely unaltered. Downstairs, a couple of walls were knocked out to integrate the kitchen, living and dining areas. Upstairs a bathroom was added for Elizabeth. The passage was removed as far as possible, integrated into a dressing room in one area and made into a pyjama lounge in another, and the main bedroom’s bathroom was joined to the main room so it, too, could enjoy the views. But for the most part, the walls stayed intact. Nevertheless, the transformation looks radical, an effect achieved by changing the finishes.
While Leon and Andria wanted a modern interior, they didn’t want it to feel industrial. They chose simple, familiar materials, and decided largely on wood finishes. ‘The wood is contemporary but natural,’ says Leon. He wanted the downstairs living space to double as a gallery for their remarkable collection of contemporary local art, so the walls are white.
Looking at the house now, it’s hard to remember its previous incarnation, so complete is its transformation. The change is at once radical and subtle, with close ties to the original design, showing how much can be done with an existing structure.
Originally featured in HL's special 2015 Before and After issue.
If you want to see your home renovation splashed across the pages of HL, be sure to enter our 2016 Readers' #HLRenoInnovation Awards by sending before and after pictures of your home or room makeover.