‘This house lives so well,’ Luchelle Nel starts, her words hinting at the success of its design, its easy flow and the joy of living in harmony with the outdoors. The relationship to what’s outside is an integral part of the way we live as South Africans and, as a result, glass-fronted homes and giant doors that fold away are all a means to drawing the outside in. It was exactly that, plus a manageable house that maximised functionality, that Luchelle, a doctor, and her surgeon husband Philippus wanted for themselves and their two small children Philip (one) and Alexa (four).
‘I didn’t realise it at the time but my style is very Scandinavian,’ she says, confessing it’s not really her arena of expertise. Luchelle instinctively distinguishes good design from bad, believing that everyday objects should be considered, beautiful and practical – why else have them? Having returned from a trip to Helsinki she gleaned that everything the Scandinavians advocate in design resonates with what she loves.
Her appreciation for clean, functional spaces was echoed by the work of architect Karin Harcus-Harrison, who became a natural choice for the Nels.
‘The brief was for a small, easy living family home with a walk-in closet (for Luchelle), an underground wine cellar (for Philippus) and a double volume door that would open up onto the nature reserve bordering their property,’ explains Karin.
In line with their combined philosophies, all furniture is modern and streamlined, either custom designed by Karin or bought from a handful of Luchelle’s favourite designers – Hay, Philippe Starck, Tonic and Mezzanine. ‘Every item has been hand-picked, nothing is by chance,’ she confirms. Luchelle spends a lot of time researching harder-to-find items, often seeking them out from afar. Her latest project is a unique set of house numbers she had made in Japan.
On its southern border the house embraces an enclosed garden with the entrance passage, dining and living room all looking directly onto it. Turn the other way to the north and the dining and living rooms as well as the kitchen and entire upstairs area share a view of the main garden and koppie beyond it. In a bold move they sought out and installed ‘a five-metre-high, double-glazed facade door, which folds away in its entirety’, says Karin of the home’s most daring architectural feature.
In response to the site’s steep slope the garden has been terraced into grassed sections supported by high cascading walls. Small Tickey creepers are slowly chasing the light and will soon create an all green backdrop. The outdoor terraces also speak to the inside, where Karin has devised what she terms ‘pockets of private space’ using separate levels to designate areas.
A neat steel fence edges the lawn and beyond it a tract of land has been reserved that will remain untouched by developers. This rocky, untamed outcrop rises steeply from the perimeter fence, eventually joining up with the reserve. ‘We hear a lot of birds here, as well as a pair of breeding owls that visit at night,’ Luchelle notes.
The large covered veranda was designed to connect directly with the kitchen, effortlessly uniting inside with out when the aluminium doors are thrown open and folded back. That way friends are able to share in the action when Luchelle and Philippus are preparing lunch on weekends. ‘Philippus must have been a saucier in his past life,’ Luchelle smiles, explaining that he’s always perfecting some sauce for a dish, often dipping into the Larousse Gastronomique reference tome in his quest.
When the family members are not abroad seeing the world they stay firmly put at home, braaiing on weekends or lunching with their extended family on Sundays. ‘I used to think my alter ego was living somewhere in a Parisian flat but the last time we were away was the first time I really wanted to come back home,’ Luchelle reflects contentedly. Ultimately, that’s the triumph of great design.
Karin Harcus-Harrison, 073-196-1036, originandjames.co.za
This article originally appeared in our October 2015 issue.