SPEAK­ING VOL­UMES

A bold ren­o­va­tion rein­vents a 1930s Jo’burg bun­ga­low in Park­town North as a gallery for art and life

Elle Decoration (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - Text GRA­HAM WOOD Pho­to­graphs GREG COX Styling SVEN ALBERDING / BU­REAUX

Art, de­sign and the ’chaos of life’ were the key prin­ci­ples guid­ing the ren­o­va­tion of a 1930s bun­ga­low in Jo­han­nes­burg

When James Mof­fatt and Marc Watson be­gan search­ing for a new home, they were taken with the very first one they vis­ited. ‘As soon as we walked in, we felt it,’ says Mof­fatt. The cou­ple had been con­sid­er­ing build­ing some­thing from scratch, but were keen to see what else might be avail­able. ‘It was weird,’ says Watson. ‘In our minds, this was the home we wanted to build.’ Nonethe­less, it took four months of house-hunt­ing be­fore they re­alised just how serendip­i­tous their first view­ing had been. ‘Bizarrely, ev­ery­thing we’d hoped for was there,’ Watson says. ‘We didn’t be­lieve that could hap­pen.’

The house in Park­town North, Jo­han­nes­burg, had been re­cently al­tered by ar­chi­tect Kate Ot­ten for the pre­vi­ous own­ers. She says that while it had some orig­i­nal fea­tures of a typ­i­cal 1930s servicemen house be­fore she be­gan, it had been al­tered and re­al­tered un­til it had be­come ‘a bit of a rab­bit war­ren’. Her task was to ‘strip out the com­pli­ca­tions’ and make sense of the in­te­rior spa­ces. ‘What I love about al­ter­ations is rewrit­ing the mean­ing of a house,’ she says. ‘Of­ten, one bold move can re­script ev­ery­thing.’

Like Mof­fatt and Watson, the pre­vi­ous own­ers were avid art col­lec­tors, so the defin­ing fea­ture of the house is a long gallery that runs through its cen­tre. ‘From the front door, you can see all the way through to the back of the gar­den,’ says Mof­fatt. The over­all struc­ture is ar­ranged in two wings on ei­ther side of the gallery’s axis, which me­di­ates be­tween the pri­vate bed­room ar­eas and pub­lic liv­ing ar­eas. The bed­room wing can be com­pletely closed off from the rest of the house, and its orig­i­nal pressed-metal ceil­ings and low vol­umes cre­ate a com­fort­able sense of in­ti­macy.

To the other side of the gallery is a large, barn-like liv­ing area and kitchen, whose clean, pitched ceil­ings and high pro­por­tions re­sult in a won­der­ful, open at­mos­phere with a more so­cial char­ac­ter.

The vari­a­tions in scale and vol­ume are a master­class in the ma­nip­u­la­tion of pro­por­tion, and the com­bi­na­tion of space, vol­ume and light char­ac­terises how one ex­pe­ri­ences the home. The high vol­umes never feel cav­ernous, the low vol­umes are never cramped and Ot­ten’s let light in through­out the abode, not just via the floor-to-ceil­ing slid­ing doors that open to the gar­den, but also through clerestory win­dows, sky­lights, eye-level open­ings and a series of odd-sized win­dows along the north­ern wall.

In the ex­pan­sive liv­ing space, the barn shape can be both di­vided and con­nected with a series of enor­mous top-hung Ore­gon pine slid­ing doors, which – as they’re moved – cre­ate paths be­tween the kitchen on one end of the house and the pa­tio on the other. The choice of Ore­gon pine is a ref­er­ence to the sprung floors of the orig­i­nal house’s past, while other ma­te­ri­als, such as cor­ru­gated iron on the wall out­side (which would have been the home’s orig­i­nal roofing), have also been given a con­tem­po­rary rein­ter­pre­ta­tion.

Al­though their art col­lec­tion fol­lowed them from pre­vi­ous homes, the cou­ple started afresh with the in­te­rior of their new house, with fur­nish­ings that are a re­sponse to the space as much as to their own evolv­ing tastes. As the art di­rec­tor of the ad­ver­tis­ing com­pany they run to­gether, Watson took the lead in the home’s in­te­rior de­sign. It’s an eclec­tic mix that re­flects their joint ap­pre­ci­a­tion for de­sign, but it’s also about com­fort and cre­at­ing some­thing that ac­com­mo­dates their life­style. ‘We have dogs, so it’s re­ally im­por­tant that we don’t get fussed by liv­ing,’ says Watson.

Ot­ten is de­lighted with the way the own­ers’ ap­proach has re­an­i­mated the house. Al­though she de­signed it to quite a spe­cific brief, it’s proved re­mark­ably ver­sa­tile and adapt­able: its gallery­like in­te­rior is an in­vi­ta­tion not just to art, but, as Ot­ten puts it, to the ‘warmth and chaos of life’.

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