playing by the rules
Faced with creative constraints, designer John Jacob triumphs with this stylish sanctuary geared towards easy family living
Going into this project I couldn’t have been less excited. The client had bought a cottage at a steenberg development and I couldn’t help thinking: this is going to be a particular challenge. We couldn’t change any of the architectural elements of the building, so our creativity was limited to only reworking the internal finishings and the joinery. In the end it was the very fact that it was so constrained that made it exciting – in the end it feels fabulous. With just a few well-executed tweaks I was able to make a very big difference to the overall look and feel of the place and change the whole message.
The most notable of these tweaks was to the window heights, or unfortunate lack thereof. although I couldn’t change them architecturally, by taking the
‘In a way, it’s the wood that served as inspiration throughout the project ’
curtains up to the ceiling and adding a dummy blind to hide the in-between wall space, you get a much grander impression. a curtain isn’t a curtain, it’s a proportion – and it’s this, not the fabric, that completely changes the way people understand a space.
Because the first floor, which you enter the house on, was an open-plan area, I wanted to create a separation between the entrance and the lounge. hence the Pierre Cronje shutter detail that also runs to the ceiling, both maximising ceiling volume and creating a focal point that defines the two spaces. Why this detail works so well, and what I love, is that it has a lightness to it and it has this incredible sage colour. Pierre created this green-timber look by lightly brushing the oak with paint and then applying a black oil that really accentuated its grain. he made all the furniture for the house, so there’s a depth and a solidness to everything that really resonates with the space.
of course, this brought up the next question: what are we going to do with the interiors? I used the steenberg development, with its modernist Cape vernacular-style architecture, as the starting point, opting to pay homage to the setting not in a slavish, clichéd way but rather in a more subtle one. There is a steven gambrel sensitivity to it: quite square profiles that are not overly detailed. This way the classic quality of the interior wouldn’t fight with the modernity of what’s happening
outside but still take it to a soft place. I wanted to introduce a little bit of this into the space by making the furniture pieces unrecognisable and not rigidly in the Cape style. There’s a bit of fun, too. Take the pineapple lamps: they have a Cape-ness to them but at the same time they wouldn’t look out of place in a decidedly american interior.
I never pander to the clichés of decorating. In terms of my work that’s how I ultimately define what I do. I try to do this by creating homes that are unrecognisable with regard to trends but rather have a sense of integrity. I want to say something different. In this house I did that by using a warm sandstone for the floors and a lot of burnt sienna in terms of colouration. To this day it still strikes me as odd how terrified people are of using warm colours. Why yellow hasn’t entered mainstream decorating I’ll never understand. grey died a long time ago.
a successful interior also needs to have a strong connection with the outside – a view, somewhere to escape. and if you don’t have these views, you need to fake them. Concerning the garden here I wanted to set up perspectives from the inside of the house to the outside. hedges hide the surrounding walls and fences, and I designed this reinterpretation of a Lutyens bench that doubles as a trellis and becomes the garden’s focal point.
Working with Pierre was an amazing opportunity to incorporate patina into the interior. The furniture isn’t overly complicated or ornate, it has a squareness to it that avoids pastiche. From the joinery to the waxing of the oak and the black oil that accentuates the grain, there’s so much interest in all of the surfaces that we’ve used. There’s an honesty to the materials because these pieces have been so made to express the timber in its many different shapes and forms.
In a way, it’s the wood that served as inspiration throughout the project. From the upstairs bedrooms you get these incredible views over the pine trees with their lovely grey and umber bark and viridian leaves. I used these colours to inform the palette of the interior, creating a deeply green experience with shades of sage and pistachio offset by a dark richness, which you see coming through in the ground-level study. It really makes the house tell a story and shows you its relationship with everything around it. John Jacob Interiors johnjacobinteriors.com;
Pierre Cronje pierrecronje.co.za
right 17th century dutch-style artwork in the stairwell below a bathroom detail opposite page one of the upstairs bedrooms
the groundfloor study is expressed in moodier tones to create a cocooning effect