houses

Relaxed Pretoria Home


Text Tess Paterson Styling Leana Schoeman Photographs Elsa Young  It’s the view that steals the limelight – stretching from the flatlands of Pretoria’s Sunnyside to the Union Buildings and the distant mountains beyond. In the foreground, a barrier of green suburban forest cushions the property from the city roar, save for the vuvuzelas and the early-morning muezzin. It’s the kind of familiar highveld setting that tugs at your heartstrings. And it forms an arresting backdrop to this modern family home. Willem and Jeanne van Zyl, an economist and attorney respectively, fell for this prize location in Muckleneuk seven years ago. With uncanny foresight, they were able to see past the brown Seventies-era face-brick structure. ‘The original house was a lot more conventional,’ explains Willem. ‘Our goal was to open things up – to optimise the space and to create a tangible connection between indoors and out.’ Before tackling the house, the dramatically sloping terrain had to be flattened out and terraced to accommodate the pool. ‘Our neighbours told us that the last two pools built here had cracked irreparably,’ says Willem, ‘so the foundations for this one are an entire storey deep. It looked like a mining operation for a while.’ The couple then approached their long-time friends Inge Wessels of Solo Architect, and Chris Wilkinson of Wilkinson Architects, to achieve the seamlessly interconnected spaces they were after. ‘We collaborated closely with Jeanne and Willem on opening up the “closed” areas on both the ground and top floors,’ says Inge. ‘The kitchen, for instance, had a separate scullery that blocked the most beautiful part of the view. Jeanne is a fantastic cook and they entertain regularly. It’s become a far more sociable hub now that it’s connected to the living areas.’ Other clever changes included transforming a dark, downstairs kitchen into an airy second patio, while an oddly placed bar became six-year-old Meiring’s bedroom. ‘We also wanted to connect the upper level to the garden below, hence the outside staircase on the side of the house,’ says Chris. The result is a spacious, urban-loft feel on the top floor, with easy access to an established, leafy garden. ‘Overall, we tried to avoid a design that reflected a specific era,’ adds Inge. ‘In that sense it has a modernist feel, emphasised by the use of honest materials like glass and steel. We also spent a lot of time collaborating on the proportions of the horizontal window frames. All these details contribute to creating an effective backdrop, both to the views and to Jeanne and Willem’s collection of art and sculpture.’ Functioning as a gallery space, the long walls in the living area display works by South African artists such as Claudette Schreuders, Conrad Botes and Anton Kannemeyer. The couple’s decorating style is a clever marriage of old and new, with well- made wooden pieces adding a rich patina to the uncluttered interior. Vintage chairs inherited from Jeanne’s grandparents offset the polished concrete top of the kitchen island; a timber-and-glass display cabinet serves as a wardrobe in the main bedroom. Adding a hit of colour to the landing wall is a cluster of bowls by ceramic artist Ruan Hoffman. It’s a space that’s both comfy and stylish, filled with interesting pieces collected over time. Jeanne and Willem have definitely taken a long-term view on their home. ‘We’re already thinking that the pool could have been a bit bigger,’ laughs Jeanne, ‘but other than that, this is a house with sufficient space to adapt and evolve as our children grow up. We love this suburb, it suits our lifestyle, and all our close friends live nearby. As for the view, it’s the best place to watch a Pretoria thunderstorm.’ JEANNE AND WILLEM’S HOME TRUTHS We love living here because of the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the suburb, and our little urban forest with its resident hadeda squadron (Willem). The first thing I do when I get home is kick off my shoes and catch up with the children, Meiring and Marian (Jeanne); check out the view – in the mornings and late afternoons the city bowl has an impressionist glow to it (Willem). The best things about this time of year are the chilly mornings and the hot days spent in the garden (Jeanne). I’d describe my style as modest, authentic, anti-stuff (Willem); uncluttered, simple and nothing too new (Jeanne). I’m inspired by optimists (Willem); our lovely children, and people who keep on smiling in the face of adversity (Jeanne). My most treasured piece of art is Titus Matiyane’s view of Pretoria, which we bought by the metre before he became well known (Willem); I love my Bruce Emmett paintings, bought in Vancouver (Jeanne). My favourite room is the kitchen/dining area, where I can cook up a storm without missing the party (Jeanne); the two stoeps, which allow all-year outdoor living (Willem). We’re entertaining outside, with our Muckleneuk friends in attendance (Jeanne). And cooking a roast beef fillet or, when it gets cooler, oxtail stew with butter beans – the way my mom taught me to make it! (Jeanne); any of Jeanne’s dishes, which she whips up magically in a matter of minutes (Willem). This article was originally featured in the May 2012 issue of House and Leisure.