Arts and Crafts Home
Posted: 14 November 2011
Text Graham Wood Production Sherri Chipps Photographs Elsa Young, David Ross When Selwyn and Heidi Arenstein of Future Classics (interiors, furniture designers and retailers) bought this house deep in the heart of Herbert Baker territory in Joburg, they had no idea that they would be remaking history. The house had been renovated twice, first in the 1970s and again in the 1990s, so it was difficult to gauge what it looked like originally. There were some beautiful original fittings, such as the handcrafted door handles and doors, but overall the home had lost many of the desirable characteristics of a heritage house. There were no big beams, the Oregon pine was warped and knotty, the rooms were poky and had no real flow, the ceilings were uncomfortably low and, worst of all, the view was blocked. (The house is high on Parktown Ridge, and should have breathtaking views north over Johannesburg.) ‘The position is amazing,’ the Arensteins agree. ‘It was insane not to have a terrace or entertainment area and large windows.’ They established that the house had been built in 1908 in the Arts and Crafts style, and that its architects were JM Solomon and AJ Marshall. Both men spent time in Herbert Baker’s practice and went on to pursue illustrious careers. The original plans for this building had disappeared: ‘With no information to work from, we had to imagine how we thought the house should have looked,’ says Heidi. Thus began a long journey of research and discovery for Heidi and her mother, Ruth Lipschitz, the architect on the project. Mother and daughter not only read reams of material on the Arts and Crafts movement, but also conducted a painstaking examination of the house itself. They explored the rocky foundations, and uncovered some surprising artefacts, including an upstairs fireplace that had been filled with bricks and plastered over. ‘The process was like unpicking a jersey to find out how we should put it back together,’ says Ruth. Heidi, who studied fine arts and is instrumental in designing much of the unique offerings at Future Classics, sketched a number of initial ideas for the facade of the house. Ruth followed through, repeating the Arts and Crafts vocabulary of circles, squares and rectangular windows, lead panes and turrets in what she calls ‘a purist design in keeping with the neighbouring national monuments’. Although they made some fairly dramatic changes – for instance dropping the floors by 60cm and reclaiming a portion of the front lawn for a rim-flow pool (quite a feat of engineering) – the original walls are incorporated into its design. The original building lies buried inside the new house that rose around its foundations, but animates it in every respect. It’s as if the renovated house has fleshed out the bones of the original, and in the process reconnected with its aesthetic origins. ‘Rather than being a shell,’ Ruth explains, ‘it’s like a transparency that shines through.’ Inside, they rescued the fittings that could be saved, especially the fireplaces. All the doors were reshuffled and reused. The Arensteins also incorporated other original fittings into new designs. The treads of the old main staircase found a second lease of life in the modern steel staircase in the staff quarters, and the tables at the entrance were manufactured from the antique roof beams (which the builders had used as wheelbarrow ramps). Having the services of Future Classics Manufacturing at their beck and call certainly helped! The interiors are a mix of contemporary and classic design, guided by a fairly minimalist aesthetic. They didn’t want the interior too slick, so the oak floors that Selwyn sourced from China were left unfinished apart from a limewash-type treatment. The Future Classics-designed state-of-the-art kitchen is a nod to modern convenience, as are the elements of hidden technology such as a centralised vacuum-cleaning system and a home automation system, a project of Selwyn’s that runs inside the walls like a central nervous system, connecting and integrating control of the lights, the entertainment system and even pool from a single interface. That’s something these old foundations probably never dreamt of. But for a hundred years, they surely must have yearned for the view that has finally been let in. Future Classics, 011-880-6821, 021-425-5773, futureclassics.co.za; Ruth Lipschitz, 083-457-4765. To read the owners’ Home Truths, please click here. This home was originally published in the June 2009 issue of House and Leisure.