WORDS Graham Wood PRODUCTION Annemarie Meintjes PHOTOS DOOK
A family home in Waterfall Estate, Midrand, transforms the space around it as much as it creates an uplifting experience inside.
André Eksteen of Earthworld Architects believes in skyhooks. He loves designing buildings, or at least parts of them, roofs especially, that seem to float. But just as much as he goes to great lengths to create a sense of weightlessness in his designs, he also believes that buildings should be rooted in their context.
And so it was with this family home he designed for Chris and Annelien Coertse and their five-year-old daughter Heidi in Waterfall Estate, Midrand, Johannesburg.
Chris and Annelien had a well-positioned stand on a green belt in the estate. The sweeping landscape around it seemed to call for an open design – a blurring of the boundaries between the end of the Coertses’ garden and the grassland beyond. At the same time its prominent position demanded privacy. Chris and Annelien’s living requirements were fairly straightforward: three bedrooms, various living areas and a flat for Chris’s father.
Besides Earthworld Architects’ expertise in sustainable and efficient design, another reason Chris approached André was the fact that Earthworld appeared not to have a signature style. “All their projects are quite different, and I liked most of them,” says Chris.
So it was with a fairly open brief that André envisioned the house as what he calls “two floating islands suspended above a plane”. The elegant curved islands, “raised, almost like tree houses”, contain the bedrooms upstairs. Almost-invisible glass boxes housing the living areas below function as the plane.
For privacy, the balconies of the upstairs rooms have folding screens that can be drawn across the facade. The screens are perforated with an abstract pattern inspired by the nearby tree-scape: “If you’re inside, you can still see out, but people on the outside can’t see in,” says André.
“In the early morning and late afternoon you get a beautiful play of light through the screens,” adds Chris.
The glass boxes below – and even the roof gardens off the bedrooms upstairs – are carefully configured to enhance the inside-outside relationship and further anchor the house to the site. On the south side of the house, the steeply pitched roof swoops down to the ground – at the top is a row of windows that let in soft natural light.
In fact, along with an emphasis on quality and precision, one of the defining features of the house is the way its angles and volumes offer a dynamic, multidimensional experience of the space – it can seem almost like religious architecture. André says he likes to articulate the roofline clearly in his designs. “A roof is a floating plane between heaven and earth,” he says.
The Coertses lived in Finland for some time, where they developed an appreciation for minimalist yet cosy Scandinavian design. This is why interior designer Kristen Page chose to use a beautiful blond wood like ash, combined with a minimal palette and simple furnishings. From the street, the Coertses’ home imparts a sense of place. “I like that it draws the eye in immediately,” says Chris, “but once you’re inside it’s calming.”
Between the sense of weightlessness and the experience of light and volume, its interiors also bring a transformative significance to everyday life: something to lift its lucky inhabitants a little closer to heaven.