WORDS Mila Crewe-Brown PHOTOS Marsel Roothman PRODUCTION Annemarie Meintjes
A movable transparent facade bonds the interior of this contemporary Pretoria home with its remarkable natural setting.
“Nothing that looks like a house.” This was the brief to architect Nadine Engelbrecht at the conceptual stage of her clients’ new home in Zwavelpoort, east of Pretoria. “It took me four or five proposals to figure out what that meant,” she recalls.
For homeowners Charmaine and Andre Freyer (who happen to be Nadine’s parents), inspiration came in the form of an unpretentious barn conversion. What materialised was a contemporary glass house with bricked extensions on either side. “Our previous home was in a valley, so I really wanted views this time round,” says Charmaine.
The house sits at the upper end of a 36 ha stretch of land that drops down towards Zwavelpoort Spruit. Capitalising on the location, Nadine incorporated 16 photovoltaic panels and three dams in the design, taking the house off-grid.
A steel-and-glass skin is all that separates much of the home from the landscape, and the absence of blinds and curtains bolsters the dwelling’s bond with the outdoors. Living, kitchen and dining areas run perpendicular to the barn-shaped conservatory at the core of the house, allowing the Freyers to close sections off for temperature regulation. Ceiling fans, ribbon windows and strategic overhangs also aid in thermal control.
Picture entering the voluminous conservatory with its more-than-6 m-high roof. Light washes in from windows, doors and skylights, and inside you’re greeted by a profusion of happy indoor plants. The floor seems to disappear beneath you where a glass panel reveals a subterranean wine cellar. Then, as though in a scene from a James Bond movie, a colossal mechanised glass door (a sexy cousin to the garage variety) rises at the flick of a switch, connecting you intimately with the outdoors. If “nothing that looks like a house” was the brief, this is indeed a triumph.
“This idea of having a view of the landscape from everywhere in the house, and bringing the views and greenery into the core of the conservatory, means it’s not a case of inside versus outside; it’s all the same thing,” says Nadine.
Charmaine is an admirer of South African design, and notable contemporary furniture pieces feature in every room: A David Krynauw chandelier, a Laurie Wiid van Heerden bench, a Gregor Jenkin table and Ronel Jordaan chairs mingle with pieces that bear the signs of the passage of time. For Charmaine, there’s no bigger turn-off than a one-size-fits-all approach.
The length of the house faces north, towards the plunging cleft in the mountain that gives the area its name, but the Freyers’ bedroom and balcony claim the lion’s share of the views down the escarpment, covered with indigenous trees and grasses. It’s here, on the balcony, that they sit and sip the best wines from their cellar as they watch the sun go down over Bronberg, an extension of the Magaliesberg range.