WORDS Jessica Ross PHOTOS Jan Ras PRODUCTION Mark Serra
It might look a little like a foreign object against a setting of otherwise traditional houses, but this Bauhaus-inspired family home in Fresnaye is all about earthly pleasures.
There’s something altogether contrary about designing a Fresnaye house that presides over the Atlantic Seaboard without giving a second thought to the views. But when it comes to this dazzling home, there’s no desire to follow the rules. You’ll find soft curves where you’d expect sharp right angles and, while you’re cleverly protected from onlookers, glass-walled neighbours find themselves exposed.
“They didn’t care a damn for the views,” says architect Robert Silke of Robert Silke & Partners about the homeowners’ brief. “It had to be a functioning family home – that it has views is a bonus.” But take one glance at the bleached-white, three-storey structure that looks a little like an abstract jigsaw puzzle from the outside and you know there’s more to this house than just a family home. Robert insists that “it’s a pragmatic family home, not a showpiece house”, then a moment later gleefully proclaims, “It’s a bit like a spaceship arrived in Fresnaye.” Then again, this architect has quite the contrary reputation, shunning the dominant vernacular for edgy takes on Art Deco and early minimalism that feel at once retro and fresh.
You may remember his striking apartment block – Tuynhuys – that adorned the cover of VISI 106. Students of architecture will recognise the structure’s modernist underpinnings, rooted in the homeowners’ deep connection to Tel Aviv Bauhaus. “We were heavily influenced by White City design”, says the owner, referring to the large group of buildings created in 1930s Tel Aviv. “It’s really beautiful in its simplicity.”
Creating something both beautiful and simple, however, is no easy accomplishment. “There’s virtually not a brick in this building,” Robert says. “The entire thing is cast out of concrete. It’s more of a carving.” As a result, there are no V-joints or weep holes in its plaster. “It has no umbilical cord, no belly button. There’s something otherworldly about it in that there’s no evidence of its making.”
The idea of the house as a piece of sculpture is also apt when inside it looks like a gallery, showcasing the owners’ collection of art by the likes of Michael Taylor, William Kentridge and Hugh Byrne. But despite the museum-like proportions, it still manages to exude warmth. “You feel sheltered, safe and cosy inside – as if you’re being hugged by the walls,” says the owner. Much of that is down to the lighting, which Alex Geh, fellow architect at Robert Silke & Partners and co-designer on this project, took pleasure in tucking out of sight. “Alex was hiding lights all over,” Robert says with a laugh. “There’s this mysterious ethereal glow that comes out of these nooks, crannies and crevices.”
The house is also engineered to maximise natural light as it moves during the day, he adds. “It’s exceptionally warm and intimate. There’s always a beam of light on the floor.” Alex says he also included “green windows” to frame living terrariums of the forest of established trees outside – a pivotal feature for the homeowners. “The owners chose the site for the trees, so the house steps back to accommodate them and leave them as they are,” he notes.
Warmth is also a result of a carefully considered decor scheme, conceptualised by Andrea Graff, who sought to complement its large spaces through a restrained use of texture and pattern, with a few bold pops of colour. “The architecture of the home is so spectacular, simple and honest, I didn’t want to compete with that – it was about practicality,” says Andrea.
One of the key details of the interior is the pre-distressed chevron floor, which unifies its spaces and is particularly well trodden by the kids who race barefoot across its length, chase up staircases, and fill its corners with puzzles and homework. Ultimately, this is a family home and it’s designed to bring members of the clan together, whether they’re all strewn around the pyjama lounge playing games, out on their shared balcony, or coming together for Shabbat at the custom-made dining table. Yes, it might look like a spaceship to an outsider, but inside, it’s all very down to earth.