WORDS Jo Buitendach PRODUCTION Annemarie Meintjes PHOTOS Dook
Hidden behind a simple white wall and Forest Town’s abundant Highveld summer greenery is this modernist showstopper designed in the early 1980s by Pancho Guedes.
The Colemans are not your average suburbanites – although chatting to the humble Audrey Coleman, now 90, you wouldn’t guess it. She and her late husband, Max, were active human-rights advocates during the apartheid years, both working for the Detainees’ Parents Support Committee, with Audrey also a long-standing and celebrated member of the legendary human- rights organisation, Black Sash.
House Coleman has major cred too. Built in the early 1980s, it’s a masterpiece of clean lines and geometric shapes and, though tailor-made to be its owners’ retirement home, it’s also a piece of South African design history. “Our son Colin was a student at Wits University and insisted that Pancho Guedes was the only person for the job,” says Audrey of their choice of architect.
Amâncio d’Alpoim Miranda “Pancho” Guedes was a famed architect, artist and educator, and head of the school of architecture at Wits. Born in Portugal, he spent most of his life in Mozambique. It’s difficult to sum up such an important figure in African Modernist architecture, but there is no doubt he pushed boundaries. Known for his sculptural and well-thought-out buildings, Guedes was inspired by surrealism, African art and Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, whose work motivated him to experiment, as well as by pioneers of Modernism in Brazil, like Affonso Reidy and Oscar Niemeyer.
The Colemans’ home is simple but, in its own way, just as impressive as Guedes’s more abstract buildings, such as the Smiling Lion apartment block in Maputo. Celebrated architect and artist Cedric Green called Guedes’s work “highly ordered but with complex geometric composition” – and it’s an apt description of House Coleman, with its angular lines that lead the eye to interesting details like the statement chimney stack, or the triumvirate of circular windows that allow light to flow into the home and create a line of sight from one space to the next.
While the home has a real openness and accessibility to it, there is no shortage of cosy spaces to curl up in and read a book. And like all of Guedes’s structures, it’s a highly considered design. A hidden sliding blind covers a circular window in the office; a bijou bathroom door saves space; and the master bedroom leads directly into the pool. Guedes was also responsible for the design of much of the furniture and fitted cabinetry in the house; these include the dining room doors with cathedral-glass windows and the charming his-and-hers desk in the office. He didn’t have it all his own way, though. “He wanted to design all the furniture,” recounts Audrey, “but I said that wasn’t going to happen. I also removed some ghastly round wooden lights…”
She has always been interested in art – “It’s just part of who I am,” she says. Her impeccable taste is evident throughout the home, especially in her art collection. A Cecil Skotnes and a work by Spanish great Joan Miró hang alongside much-loved paintings by a grandchild and Audrey’s brother Gerald Goldman. Artworks and crafts from the continent are also celebrated as collections of wall hangings, beading and sculpture that cover most surfaces and walls. The pièce de résistance, though, is a multi-textural tapestry by South African artist Susqya Eline Williams. “When we moved in here, this space was just demanding a big piece of art. Something three-dimensional, nothing flat,” says Audrey.
She loves sitting outside on the patio, where she’s surrounded by trees. And who can blame her? The lush, sun-dappled oasis with its tennis court and impressive strelitzias is the perfect escape. “This house has given us so much pleasure,” she says. “It has seen lots of great parties, including my son’s wedding.”And that is the crux of House Coleman and what makes it so special: it is a skilfully
designed family home that holds evidence of a life well lived.