Anyone watching Tom Ford’s directorial debut, A Single Man, would have been struck by the thought that only one of the world’s leading design minds could have found such a perfectly chic and elegant example of 1960s architecture in which to set the tragic movie.
With his eye for perfection and elegance, Ford had chosen a Scandinavian-style wood and glass house set in a lush Los Angeles garden as the backdrop for the impeccably styled Colin Firth to experience the worst day of his life. For retro lovers it was a house to drool over: Was it really possible that such architectural perfection could exist outside Stockholm?
Well, we think we may have found a little bit of it ourselves, right here in South Africa. What’s more, it perches incongruously on a koppie between Linden and Randburg in the suburb of Robindale.
Owner Olivier Schildt has always nurtured a passion for the sleek forms of the Modernist era but never entertained the fantasy that he would one day live in such a home. Three years ago, while seeking design inspiration on newspapers’ property pages for the renovation of his 70m2 Craighall apartment, Olivier came across the Cornelia Road property.
“The minute I walked through the door, I knew I was going to live in this house,” he remembers. “I’ve always been a Modernist fiend. It’s such an interesting style of architecture – the design of the building speaks more than the interiors.”
Olivier has a special relationship with his home and is tenderly embarking upon the challenge to preserve the house and ensure that all the features do justice to its 1969 heritage.
Fortunately, the building had not been overly tampered with when Olivier bought it. The kitchen is the only area where previous owners made major changes but it is an open-plan space that sits comfortably in the clean lines.
Apart from cleaning up the fuel-fired fireplace and bathrooms, which had been slightly neglected, Olivier’s priority is to repair and maintain the gleaming meranti wood that clads the top metre of the exterior walls and the underside of the eaves. He also plans to lay a matching wooden floor to lead visitors to the perfectly authentic front door, complete with circular vinyl inlays. Circles are part of the design language and the soft lines are repeated in the bathrooms, in the lounge’s rounded alcove, as well as in the exterior, which features some rounded walls.
All the original louvred windows are still in place, while wooden shelves and dividers lend an authentic 1960s sleekness.
Olivier’s greatest sadness is that he has been unable to trace the name of the architect who designed the house. Although he has drawn the plans from the city council, the signature on the paper is indistinct. Ever on the scent of this architectural mystery, Olivier reckons the person may have designed another four similar homes in the area. A drive around the suburb reveals quite a few of these retro houses with wooden finishes, most of which have been renovated to add contemporary finishes.
Olivier, on the other hand, wants to remain true to the original design, preserving all its features, and would love to know exactly who was responsible. “Whoever created this house understood how the sun moves in Africa,” he marvels.
The kitchen-dining area opens onto an eastern patio and is bathed in sunlight at breakfast time while, on the northern side, the sun pours through vast windows and the Plexiglas roof over the veranda, warming the house naturally.
The windows are decoration free and Olivier illuminates the sculptural garden at night to bring the lushness of the cycads and frangipanis into the home. “It’s wonderful to experience the rhythms of day and night by not having curtains or blinds,” he says. The curved pool, which hugs a circular paddle pool, is crying out for a slate surround – one of the projects Olivier hopes to get to soon.
Three bedrooms lead off a western corridor, opening to the north with sliding doors and, of course, wooden shutters. All have perfectly preserved wooden built-in cupboards in rich wood.
In the bathrooms Olivier intends to do some restoration to reintroduce authentic retro fittings. The master bedroom’s en-suite has the feel of a Scandinavian sauna, with wood and mosaic tiles lending warmth and European sophistication. He has a sense that this bathroom was created at a later stage than the original construction but, until Olivier gets to the bottom of who was behind the creation of Robindale’s retro gems, he will simply have to allow himself to be led by his own distinctly Modernist instincts.
More info: Olivier Schildt www.rexcreative.com