Fresh Start

'We can hear the lions roaring at night,’ explain Leon and Deryn Plutsick as they sit and chat over coffee in their glass-door-lined living room. Opening up onto a broad tract of grass and flanked by large corrugated-iron rainwater- collection drums, the house epitomises country living. Astonishingly, it’s actually situated just a few hundred metres off one of Jo’burg’s busiest roads, in the heart of Parkview. And the lions – well, they call the nearby Johannesburg Zoo home! The couple bought the house, which they share with their sons, Sebastien and Benjamin, and Leon’s daughter, Aimee, seven years ago. Built in the 1920s, through misguided renovations it had come to resemble a typical, flat 1970s bunker, although fortunately situated on an exceptionally large stand for the suburb. The family lived in the house for five years before they gutted and revamped it. ‘Eventually the house was falling apart, so we had to take the plunge and change it,’ says Deryn. The couple initially had plans to return it to its original colonial-type state. That is, until well-known Jo’burg architect Charles van Breda came on board. ‘Charles designed a home for us that’s easy to live in,’ notes Leon. ‘It has elements of both an industrial aesthetic and a “barn” style.’ As Charles says: ‘I had a substantial portion of the original building to work with, but I wanted to do something that was fresh, not restrained by any particular style, and that responded to the uncluttered Highveld garden.’ His finished structure makes use of expanses of glass and tin – which even appears in canopies hanging over the living-and-dining section of the house. This airily open area, with its glass walls and exposed beams, is suffused with light. It opens onto a sprawling lawn where the boys spend hours playing soccer and cricket. To create this space, Charles expanded the existing structure outwards, creating an extensive alfresco entertainment area. This is now home to big outdoor tables and benches. But it’s undoubtedly the free-flowing kitchen and TV room where the family spend most of their time. They enlisted interior specialist Tracey Johnson’s help in designing their perfect kitchen. Duck-egg- blue cupboards are offset by slick handles and countertops – it’s a clean-lined, functional space but also the heart of the home. The entrance passage also got a welcome overhaul. Previously a dull and wasted area, it’s now a standout space in its own right. A large, ornately carved door, which they’d had for years until they found the perfect use for it, makes an eye-catching feature where the thoroughfare connects with Leon’s office. Situated on a central courtyard opposite the lounge, the bedroom wing is light and voluminous. The boys’ rooms could make any young lad green with envy; Tin Tin posters and a drum kit are just part of the zone the boys call their territory. As the resident teenager, Aimee’s room is chic and understated, while the main bedroom complex boasts Leon’s favourite spot – the outdoor shower – that he loves using when it rains. The house has a remarkable South African aesthetic and makes the most of Jo’burg’s fantastic weather and light. As Leon observes, ‘It’s proof you should live in a house before you make any changes to it – don’t be impatient, take your time.’ If the Plutsicks’ finished product is anything to go by, we reckon that’s advice worth following.

BIG IDEA #1: The Passage Makeover

The existing passage was dark and nondescript. To create a space that was lighter and more open, 1970s quarry tiles were replaced with hard-wearing Cemcrete and the olive-coloured walls were painted cream – as were wooden doors and finishes. Two skylights were installed to add extra light. An old atrium that led off the end of the passage was reclaimed (along with some land at the back of the house) to become Leon’s study. The wooden door was built into the back wall and now forms the step-up entrance to the study.

BIG IDEA #2: Courtyard Clever

The house originally consisted of what is now the bedroom wing. Later the kitchen area on the side and lounge section at the front was added – creating a courtyard between the spaces. This consisted of little more than an unattractive parapet, small balcony and old water feature. The area’s brick floor was replaced with gravel and a slatted wooden overhang was added to the edge of the roof – suspended over an extended balcony that runs along the length of the bedrooms. The Plutsicks turned the water feature into a simple trough-like structure but kept the original mosaic above it. Rainwater-collection tanks were introduced – a commendable green touch that also makes an eye-catching feature.


  • Charles van Breda Architects 011-880-0292
  • Tracey Johnson 083-414-0357
  • Heunis Steel (rainwater tanks),
  • Urbine Dzine (irrigation and linking of rainwater tanks), 011-616-9295
  • Beekman & Associates (builder), 082-458-5531
  • MGM Design (balcony railings in courtyard)
  • Martine Margoles 083-760-2327
  • Trish Sanders (blinds), 082-460-0437
This article was originally published in the July 2010 issue of House and Leisure.