Treehouse-inspired Constantia Home

WORDS Ami Kapilevich PRODUCTION Sumien Brink PHOTOS Micky Hoyle

This one-bedroom house in Constantia is one of South Africa’s most impressive architectural gems, but it’s a seclusive one.

It was time for a change, decided Graham Paarman after a few years of living in a loft apartment above the test kitchen from where the Ina Paarman empire was built. Graham is Ina’s son and business partner.

He initially wanted a treehouse, but after consulting with Malan Vorster architects Graham settled on something along the lines of a tree-inspired house on the slopes of the family’s Constantiaberg estate.

“The design process evolved to architectualise the essence of treehouses,” says architect Pieter Malan, “using lightweight materials to suspend a shelter between tree trunks and branches.”

The exterior curves and vertical cladding clearly evoke a reedy copse or a set of tree trunks, but when you step inside the house the effect is breathtakingly reversed: Instead of a man-made tree at the edge of a clearing you are in a man-made clearing set among the trees.

The house is built primarily from Western red cedar, a beetle-resistant wood that, if left untreated, weathers naturally to acquire a soft, warm patina. Criss-crossing beams and wooden panelling combine with the exterior cladding to give the interior a filigreed sense of detail.

The structure is built around four columns, lightly touching the ground to create a hovering, cantilevered effect. The columns themselves consist of four laser-cut and rolled Cor-Ten steel “trunks”. (Cor-Ten is a type of naturally weathering steel alloy with a high copper content.) The steel rings that support all three floor levels are connected to the columns by means of branch-like arms. Connections between structural components are expressed by means of hand-turned brass details.

The structural system required a hands-on approach of development using full-scale models and testing on site as work progressed. The process involved healthy creative collaboration between the architects, engineers and builders. The architects say one of the most rewarding aspects of the project was to work with highly skilled craftspeople, as their expertise was essential to develop and execute the building and its intricate detailing.

Upstairs, the bed is positioned in the diametric middle of the house on a glass-fringed mezzanine that makes it feel like it is very much a part of the living space below.

Above the bedroom is the roof deck, where the colour of the wood is changing due to the variable exposure to sunlight and rain. The house feels alive, and the views from here are sublime. Below the house, four reflection ponds, designed by Mary Maurel Gardens and built out of Cor-Ten steel, lead the eye over wooded slopes and beyond.

It is hard to describe what has been achieved here, but the house is a little bit of magic sparked by something that is more than the sum of its parts.