A her­itage manor house in Joburg blends Ja­panese de­sign ideas with its own­ers’ re­mark­able col­lec­tions

House and Leisure (South Africa) - - Contents - TEXT GARRETH VAN NIEKERK PHOTOGRAPHS SARAH DE PINAI

Ahis­tor­i­cal hor­ti­cul­tural show gar­den, built at the high­est point in Jo­han­nes­burg, has found new life in the hands of Jonty Mark, a sports ed­i­tor, and hus­band Vin­cent Truter, a cu­ra­tor and creative di­rec­tor. The im­mense prop­erty in­cludes a manor house, two charm­ing stone cot­tages – built from the stone of the quarry be­low it in Bezuiden­hout Val­ley – and, at its acme, a pale-pink 1950s ‘ sum­mer pavil­ion’. To­day, Light­ning’s Nest seam­lessly com­bines the cou­ple’s love for na­ture and de­sign into a creative liv­ing en­vi­ron­ment where an ex­tra­or­di­nary col­lec­tion of nat­u­ral ob­jects lives com­fort­ably along­side high de­sign.

When it was opened to the pub­lic in 1905, this site boasted one of the city’s most ex­quis­ite gar­dens, fa­mous for its rare plants and spec­tac­u­lar views. But, after years of ne­glect while chang­ing hands over the past cen­tury, it had be­come a jun­gle of wild species. Since buy­ing it 15 years ago, the cou­ple has tamed each of the spa­ces dra­mat­i­cally – in the gar­den and in the build­ings – care­fully em­brac­ing an­cient Ja­panese philoso­phies to guide what should be kept and what should be re­moved.

The show gar­den’s orig­i­nal cast-iron street lamps have re­mained, for in­stance, and still light the way up the wind­ing stone stair­case at the base of the prop­erty, which me­an­ders through decades-old beds of clivias, a wa­ter­fall and well-es­tab­lished, tow­er­ing trees.

At the top of the stairs, a grand stone Her­bert Bak­er­style manor house opens up to re­veal a sit­ting room on one side, and the din­ing and kitchen ar­eas on the other. The clas­si­cal ar­range­ment of the space is

made con­tem­po­rary with eclec­tic in­te­ri­ors, cre­ated by Vin­cent, who used the four el­e­ments as a theme: a room each for air, earth, fire and wa­ter.

In the ‘earth’ room, a brown leather couch sits low on the floor, ground­ing the space among the shine of an­tique silk ki­monos from Vin­cent’s trav­els to Ja­pan, rare crys­tal spec­i­mens and an un­usual col­lec­tion of carved wooden fungi. And Vin­cent’s pas­sion for gar­den­ing is made clear via the mas­sive 27-year-old staghorn fern in the din­ing room, which hangs above an Art Deco games ta­ble in place of a tra­di­tional chan­de­lier.

On the other side of the hall, bold turquoise walls, botan­i­cal fab­rics and hordes of rare seashells cap­ture the ‘wa­ter’ el­e­ment in the home’s old front par­lour, which Vin­cent has con­verted into his shi­atsu and move­ment room. It’s also where he keeps his com­pre­hen­sive ar­ray of shells – one of the largest such col­lec­tions in the south­ern hemi­sphere, Vin­cent ex­plains, all care­fully ar­ranged in beach-sand-filled boxes ac­cord­ing to their bi­o­log­i­cal tax­on­omy.

Up­stairs, the el­e­men­tal ap­proach con­tin­ues in the pri­vate ar­eas, where one of the be­d­rooms em­bod­ies the con­cept of ‘air’. The crisp white room com­bines bleached cane fur­ni­ture, a hand­carved bed from Cameroon, light maple woods, dried indige­nous leaves and pale pur­ple linen. The sec­ond bed­room down the hall is on the op­po­site end of the spec­trum: it’s painted a dark emer­ald green from floor to ceil­ing, and fur­nished with black linens, heavy cur­tains and un­usual ebony wood sculp­tures.

At the top of the gar­den, the sum­mer pavil­ion over­looks a spec­tac­u­lar ‘Pink Cham­pagne’ bot­tle­brush tree that the cou­ple spent months trim­ming and train­ing into what Vin­cent de­scribes as ‘ a gi­ant bon­sai’. The wind-gnarled, twisted trunk bends low to avoid the el­e­ments, and has be­come the ideal (if ‘ac­ci­den­tal’) seat from which to view the pic­turesque ex­panse beyond.

Set at an airy 1 808m above sea level, this im­promptu bench must be one of the most beau­ti­ful spots in Jo­han­nes­burg and, like Light­ning’s Nest it­self, pro­vides a per­fect les­son in how a house – even when it’s also a grand manor – can live com­fort­ably with na­ture.

T HIS PAGE, F ROM TOPUs­ing hand­made ce­ramic teaware, home­owner Vin­cent Truter pre­pares a tra­di­tional Ja­panese tea cer­e­mony in the kitchen; in the ‘earth’-toned lounge, a turn-of-the-cen­tury hand­wo­ven silk obi graces the wall, along­side a larger silk tex­tile. In the cor­ner, on a lu­cite ta­ble from Mod­ernist in Parkhurst (mod­ernist.biz), are a vin­tage wicker lamp from Granny’s At­tic in Kens­ing­ton (grannysat­tic.co.za) and a quartz crys­tal sourced through a min­eral spec­i­mens dealer. A glass Tone stool by Mar­cel Wan­ders for Kartell catches the light in the fore­ground.

T HIS SPR EA D, CLOCK­WISE F ROM LEFTOn a chest atop Vin­cent’s col­lage ta­ble, an anatom­i­cal illustration from Col­lec­tor’s Trea­sury in Joburg reprises the lat­tices of flank­ing seafan corals; a Dok­ter and Misses lamp pro­to­type arcs over a vin­tage med­i­cal-ex­am­i­na­tion­turned-shi­atsu bed for Vin­cent’s prac­tice in the ‘wa­ter’-themed room; over­look­ing his shell col­lec­tion is a por­trait of play­wright An­ton Chekhov, sourced from the Rus­sian Na­tional Ar­chive in Moscow. An in­her­ited French-style dis­play shelf show­cases ad­di­tional ob­jets.

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