WORDS Mila Crewe-Brown PHOTOS Dook PRODUCTION Annemarie Meintjes
A weekend home in a Dullstroom valley speckled with lakes is intended to blend into the landscape, offering its occupants an instinctive connection with nature.
Ten kilometres outside the town of Dullstroom, an inconspicuous sign marks the entrance to Walkersons Private Estate. It’s this valley with its serene lakes and veld that many Joburgers choose to escape to. One such retreat exemplifies the very meaning of the word with a lowslung, contour-embracing house.
Architects Johan Wentzel and Grete van As of W design architecture studio were responsible for the building, the landscaping and much of the interior.
Celebrated for conceptually driven architecture that responds to the site, they look at context to derive their designs. “This is not a building that needs to be looked at, but rather a place to look out from,” Johan says of this significant shift in perspective.
The owners were drawn to these two architects’ contextually driven work. “In terms of architecture and interiors we prefer modern, light-filled, open spaces and buildings that blend into their surroundings,” they say.
Subtly referencing the estate’s farming history, the layout is comprised of an undecorated barn structure running from south to north, almost entirely open inside. A covered veranda wraps the eastern and northern facades, calling to mind a modern concrete version of a lean-to roof. Looking east from the veranda, the eye travels over the landscape down towards the lake, the view uninterrupted by the two bedrooms, concealed stone boxes beneath earth-covered roofs. These private bedrooms are accessed by a subterranean passage that links them to the living area.
A number of savvy architectural devices unite the house with nature. It faces east, not north, following the lay of the land rather than imposing on it while capitalising on the view of the lake. Generous glazing and openings on three sides of the barn mean that breath-taking scenery animates the interior. Furthermore, the stone boxes that house the bedrooms are set beneath and above ground, tucking into the slope as “part building, part landscape,” explain Johan and Grete.
“We chose to stay away from the estate’s colonial Victorian aesthetic references and rather focused all design on the context and how the home would allow the owners to connect to and spend time in this beautiful valley,” says Johan.
In doing so they used as few design and detailing elements as possible. In turn, the homeowners cite “the dramatic weather changes on the escarpment and the pronounced season changes on the Highveld” as aspects that continue to draw them to the area.
Inside, there’s a sense of openness that brings about peace. The lack of internal walls and low-slung form recall the Prairie-style homes of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, whose approach was to design buildings of the land, rather than on it. For the homeowners, Wright’s approach was a guiding one.
The interior is spartan but comfortable, with little to distract from the location. Bucking the trend for statement-making architecture, this home refuses to complicate design and ultimately bonds the built with the natural. “Hopefully,” says Johan, “this house will become less and less visible over the next few years as nature is allowed to cover what is man-made.