An urban eyrie in Rosebank
‘One gathers knowledge, intuition and creative spirit as one goes. If I could go back, I definitely would have become a landscape architect, because that’s where my real energetic passion sits,’ says Christine Read about designing and building her home.
The Rosebank, Johannesburg, abode that she shares with gallerist husband Mark Read (Everard Read and CIRCA) and their daughters was brought to life after an 18-month build overseen by Christine and architects Silvio Rech and Lesley Carstens. ‘I saw a picture in a magazine a while ago, tore it out and kept it,’ she says. ‘I didn’t want a large property – with two grown children, I wanted something private and self-contained.’
Christine points to the piece of land across Jellicoe Avenue – and what looks like the construction site of a parking lot – that she and Mark bought and then sold to art collector and property developer Anton Taljaard, because the plans she had designed were not in keeping with the vision in her head. ‘I didn’t want to be on the ground,’ she says. ‘I wanted to be elevated and also removed somehow.’
The property across the road is now being developed into a retail space complete with a private art museum and penthouse suites. Hidden by foliage, it is just visible from the courtyard of the Reads’ home, the rooftop location that required Christine to do some convincing. One evening, glass of wine in hand, she took Mark up to the gallery roof and shared with him her vision of building their home there. And when she showed that magazine picture of the seemingly random property that had inspired her to Rech and Carstens, it turned out they had designed it.
‘The whole house sits on a steel frame that’s like a giant skeleton, and then everything was designed around it,’ says Christine. ‘First the stone wall went in and then the ceiling and the flooring, which is a mesh of steel gridwork, and then the thick Canadian oak beams went onto the floor, then the re-engineered wood onto the walls. The glass went in last.’ The home feels rather like a museum located inside a tented camp, straight out of a luxurious bush lodge.
The art and collectibles – such as stone tools and seeds – that cover the walls and surfaces speak to Mark and Christine’s shared interest in the history of African landscapes, heritages and cultures. Despite the plethora of found objects, everything seems to have its place – from the collection of worn straw hats to the Deborah Bell sculptures, the works of Colbert Mashile and Blessing Ngobeni, brass lamps, and shelves of books about birds, plants, orchids and Persian rugs. Here, the modern and the ancient live comfortably together.
Christine wanted her home to be a contemporary space housing all her vintage finds, shaped by her studies in zoology, ornithology, paleoanthropology, early humans and the land. These are some of the passions shared by the couple, who have been married for 33 years.
The courtyard garden is purely indigenous and features succulents and aloe species, acacias and olive trees, chosen specifically for their hardiness to endure direct sunlight and the reflection of glass. Two of the exterior walls feature mosaic installations created by artist Bronwen Findlay: water lilies flowing with the current of the Okavango River are represented on one of these and on the other, birds such as swallows and bee-eaters.
The juxtaposition of old and new and the strong influence of nature in the Reads’ home mirrors the story of how CIRCA was born. ‘CIRCA was born 10 years ago out of a desire to progressively contemporise Everard Read gallery. That gallery was firmly rooted in modern but traditional art, and we needed to make it more contemporary,’ says Christine.
In their own home, talking about the various artworks that adorn the rooms, Christine jokes, ‘I get everything on long-term appro. What I’m really passionate about, I try to buy – on occasion I have enough to be able to do so. But not unlike a modern museum, the art here is moved around – up-and-coming artists are rotated with favourites and earn pride of place. Collectibles, paintings and sculptures are rearranged, much like you would move furniture in order to reinvigorate a space or home.’