houses, Indoor / Outdoor

Unified Simplicity

Elsa Young

Simple and functional are the words that roll off the tongue when Marie describes her ideal home – ‘ideal’ normally being some conjured-up notion, realised in the distant-to-never future – but Marie, a French expat who runs a local travel agency servicing the French community, is already living it.

‘This is my dream house,’ she insists. ‘Even if I could, I wouldn’t change a thing.’
Having been on the hunt for a new home in the neighbourhood of the French school in Morningside, Johannesburg, Marie and her husband Eddie – the owner of a mobile crane company – hit the jackpot. The property they quickly settled on was, as it turns out, close to the school gates, requiring no more than a short walk with her daughters Andrea, three, and Mila, six, in hand. The building they were to call home was divided into a small house and 80m² of home offices. ‘We walked around the property 10 times trying to get a vision for change. The space was small and very awkward,’ she recalls. Her vision for change did arrive – in the form of great architects and a heap of Pinterest boards featuring images of open-plan interiors, white-walled beach homes, concrete, wood and splashes of turquoise (her favourite colour) – all features she conveyed to architects CJ Eisenstein and Georg van Gass of Gass Architecture Studios.
SantanaInsitued By positioning the covered patio at the end of the house, incoming light is maximised. The armchairs are from Weylandts (weylandts.co.za) and the stools are from Kamers Vol Geskenke (kamersvol.com).

Having seen their work first hand, she and Eddie had become fans of CJ and Georg’s contemporary aesthetic, signature use of timber and light steel, as well as their ethos of keeping things simple – a philosophy they shared. ‘I was asked to make it a more liveable space, with distinct public and private zones,’ explains Georg, but it was no light face-lift. They gutted the disconnected offices to the west, giving Marie and Eddie a roomy master suite, bathroom, office and kids’ rooms. They also demolished a lot of the building to the east, extending the footprint, simplifying the structure and tying it all together with a lightweight monopitch roof and glass facade, allowing for uncapped natural light, and direct interaction between inside and out. ‘The roof helps to make a lot of separate-use areas feel more like one. It’s unifying,’ Georg says. Retaining the west wing (the main bedroom, new home office and girls’ rooms) for private use, the east of the building is one big, open expanse for living, eating, lounging and entertaining, encapsulating Marie’s ideal of laid back beach-house living. When looking south from the lounge, playroom and office, two landscaped courtyards soften the exterior.
SantanaInsitu2ed A Jetmaster stove heats the main bedroom in winter. The armchair beside it is an old recovered Biggie Best (biggiebest.com) purchase.

The original pool remains in the same place but its old-fashioned shape and red-brick surround were updated with Corymbia maculata decking. You could flop into the pool from the dining table if you wanted to and you can keep an eye on it from the living area – a bonus for any parent. Inside, white walls, cement floors and a combination of concrete and wood play to each other’s strengths, resulting in a space that’s contemporary but never cold. ‘The wood is integral to warming such a big space. If you took it all away it would feel clinical,’ she explains. Marie’s bent for interiors that are ‘modern rustic’ falls in line with a mix of pieces from shops such as Weylandts and Amatuli Artefacts, as well as many she has collected on trips abroad and repurposed for everyday use. A time-worn elephant saddle now serves as a bench; an Indonesian pirogue, a bookshelf and an intricate timber screen as a bed head. Her love of salvaging played a large part in their renovation process, too, with windows, bricks, timber and sanitary ware all re-used elsewhere.
‘We only get to take time off a couple of weeks of the year but with the home’s white floors, pale wood and open planning I feel like I’m on vacation,’ she says.
In that case, maybe change really is as good as a holiday. Architects Gass Architecture Studios, 011-482-2045, gass.co.za  Originally published in HL July 2015