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