Pretoria stable-turned-home

Text Graham Wood Styling Leana Schoeman Photographs Thys Dullaart WHO: ’ORA JOUBERT WHERE: PRETORIA SIZE: 72M2 Architect ’Ora Joubert is adamant that many people misunderstand space. ‘People think in terms of floor area,’ she explains. Referring to her own home in Pretoria, she says, ‘This house is an exercise in space rather than area.’ ’Ora insists we actually don’t need very much room to live comfortably. Her house has become a beacon on the architectural landscape, and a place of pilgrimage for design-minded passers-by, searching for a modern South African aesthetic. Despite its strikingly contemporary appearance, however, this building’s history reaches back more than a century – and there’s a blue plaque on the wall to prove it. ’Ora’s house is, in fact, a converted stable predating the Anglo-Boer War. She originally owned the Victorian manor house next door, but after a while the stable began exerting its power on her imagination to such an extent that she subdivided the plot, sold the manor house and set out to recreate the ‘little shed on the boundary’. ‘People thought I was crazy,’ she says. ’Ora began by removing some of the corrugated iron sheeting, and ‘liberated the internal space’. The living quarters are essentially an open-plan volume with a kitchenette, dining room and living room taking up the ground floor, and a hayloft upstairs converted into a bedroom. She also added a separate studio – a daring, cubist reinterpretation of the stable. She replaced some of the stable’s exterior walls with glass. ‘The glass, offset against the original wooden frame, makes it possible to read the structure as it existed before the conversion, and distinguish between the old and new features of the house,’ she says. It also helps to connect the inside and outside areas. ‘It’s the typical modernist notion of drawing the outside in and the inside out.’ The high volumes, created when she pulled out the ceiling, allow for ‘a different vertical spatial sensibility’. ‘Ora has selected her belongings with great care. ‘I always say that if you can own only one thing make sure it’s the most beautiful thing you can own.’ As a self-proclaimed ‘orthodox modernist’, her home is furnished with pieces by Breuer, Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. (The piece she insists would be the first she would rescue if there were a fire is a Hammock chair by Danish designer Poul Kjærholm.) She has combined them with beautiful handcrafted pieces, which introduce an African sensibility. ‘I love modern art,’ she adds. If you look around, however, you’ll find a remarkable collection of work by Walter Battiss, a paragon of the virtues of combining modernist and traditional African influences. In the architecture, too, she included bright colours and a variety of textures. She stuck to corrugated iron, which, apart from its historical fidelity, allowed ’Ora to bring something of a local vernacular to her modernist interventions. ‘I also wanted to show that you can be innovative with basic materials,’ she says. The social dimension of her house goes beyond theoretical statements. ’Ora was saddened by the barriers and paranoid fortifications that have become typical of South African homes. ‘I felt strongly that I wanted to give something back to the street,’ she says, ‘to create a public space.’ There are no walls on the property’s border. Instead, there’s a courtyard, water feature and the beautiful facade of her studio. There is security, of course, but it is cleverly conceived so that the house doesn’t reject the world outside. ’Ora’s house is the product of a clear, uncompromising vision. Its footprint might be small, but it has left a huge impression on South African architecture. And most importantly, it works. Nearly two decades after its radica reinvention, this corrugated-iron shed is still home to its creator, elegantly living out her bold ideals behind its generously public exterior. ‘Ora Joubert, ’ORA’S HOME TRUTHS Living in a small space takes discipline. You have to have conviction, because it forces you to make decisions. The best thing about living where I do is dog playgroup in the neighbourhood park. My favourite thing about my home is that the entire house is one room. I’m inspired by unselfconscious creativity, colour, seedlings and rocks. I collect paintings by Walter Battiss and affordable sculpture. My interiors motto is love what you have and have what you love. My best piece of design advice is (to have) an uncompromised item of anything. I think up my best ideas behind my desk, in my own space. My pet design hate is contrived, impersonal interiors. My favourite things are my paintings and kilims. The places that most inspire me are Marrakesh in Morocco, Ubud in Bali, the Bosveld. At the moment I’m reading anything related to World War I and II – currently it’s Antoula Arslan’s Skylark Farm, about Armenia. The best time of the year is whenever it rains. This article was originally featured in the March 2012 issue of House and Leisure.