A Johannesburg architect reimagines his ranch-style family home by integrating it more fully into its lush urban locale
Welcoming in its Jo’burg views, an architect’s home plays out in a sun-washed palette of neutral tones
From the kitchen of architect georg van gass’s home in Victory Park, Johannesburg, he can look up, through a large sliding window, across the street and the field opposite and down to the Braamfontein spruit. Just on the other side of the spruit is a house he refers to as ‘gass’s Project 001’. It was his very first job after he struck out on his own and started gass architecture studios.
‘ever since we worked on that house, I’ve wanted to live on the spruit,’ he says. When his wife, rhoné, found this one on the opposite side of the stream from Project 001, they jumped at the chance. While the houses opposite back right onto the spruit, on this side, with the field and the mountain-biking tracks, there’s more of a ‘public domain’ as georg calls it.
glancing again through the windows you can also see some of the iconic towers that define Joburg’s skyline. georg has always nursed ideas about living in the city,
and has long championed the importance of creating safe public space around and between buildings.
The street life of the neighbourhood was the perfect catalyst for him to create the kind of house that lives by some of these ideals. he was particularly pleased that, before he even began planning a renovation, the house had one of the features he likes to include in his own designs – it was right on the street, not set back behind a wall. This would allow him to practice what he preaches.
originally the house was a typical late sixties/early seventies ranch-style house – a type that seemed almost ubiquitous in Jo’burg at one point. While georg’s father was also an architect, he says he grew up in rather more architecturally eccentric houses than his friends, but this one reminded him of many houses he visited growing up.
georg was careful and restrained in the way he reconfigured the interior, but has nonetheless managed to bring about quite a revolution in its appearance and workings. he’s moved the entrance to the street and opened up the living areas to the beautifully treed garden at the back. To the façade, he added a retro-modern
‘it’s made a massive change to our lives having things open and engaging with the garden’
screen and squared off the street-facing wall, giving it a stippled Tyrolean finish. georg likes the texture of Tyrolean and its sense of organic softness. ‘I like architecture and buildings that change – that show age, and age gracefully,’ says georg.
In the opened-up living area, he’s pushed a large kitchen island out of the kitchen and to the front of the house.
It’s a crucial point from which to look out. ‘This is very important for me, and part of that engagement with the
spruit,’ says georg.
Likewise, the study-cum-guest-room he added above the garage has a glass box corner that hangs out slightly over the driveway. rhoné works mainly from this room, and loves the openness and light. a day bed in the sunny corner underlines its status as a favourite spot.
‘I usually tell people you don’t need a separate patio,’ he says, preferring to design pavilion-like living rooms that open seamlessly to the outdoors, converting the living area instantly into a kind of indoor-outdoor room. here, the patio already existed, so he extended it with a cantilever. he completely removed the wall between living room and patio, and replaced it with glass doors that slide away completely – he has used the patio to stretch the living space outwards when the doors are open. ‘It’s made a massive change to our lives having things open and engaging with the garden,’ he says.
The furnishings are almost all prototypes of their furniture design studio, goet. The joinery, woodturning and laser-cut steel designs that are their hallmarks are found all about the house, giving it at once coherence and a sense of experimentation. coupled with their art collection, the space has character and warmth, as well as a distinctive identity that only bespoke furniture can bring – even if georg thinks of it more as a testing ground.
It is indeed a house full of ideas. he may almost have given his children the conventional house he never had growing up, but has managed to unlock so much architectural potential they’ll never know how close they came to an ordinary suburban home. In the process, he’s managed to improve suburbia, too.
clockwise, from top left the kitchen includes two sections – one part hidden behind the terracotta wall, and the kitchen island that extends into the living area; the façade features a retro-modern screen; the study-cum-guest-room
clockwise, from top left the art includes work by lehlogonolo mashaba, walter battiss and sandile Goje; the patio furniture was designed by Georg for Goet; the black Zimbabwean leather Granite kitchen island
from top Georg extended the master bedroom by adding a Glass box with a sliding Glass door that opens it completely to the Garden; the master en-suite