Inside out

PHOTOS: David Ross | PRODUCTION: Annemarie Meintjes, Klara van Wyngaarden | WORDS: Mariska van Rooyen, Johan van Zyl

Architect Thomas Gouws has achieved the impossible: the design of a contemporary holiday house and garden within the strict guidelines of a Tuscan-style estate.

Distinctive lines and curves make this house in Bronberg, east of Pretoria, visually striking. But they are also integral to the layout and functioning of this cleverly designed home.

The first of four multipurpose curves greets the visitor outside. Clad with local stone, it leads one via a floating concrete slab into the interior, where its final sweep screens the scullery from view. The second curve is a cement-washed brick wall, which provides a neutral backdrop for the stone wall and also conceals the pantry.

The third curve, a kitchen bar counter on the ground floor, is the social heart of the interactive living areas (inside and out). On the first floor, the bulkhead above the kitchen counter extends into a media storage unit for television, sound equipment and CDs.

The four curves are so placed that they form a fragmented cylinder (automatically completed in the mind’s eye), which serves as an axis of flow in the house. On paper it looks like a complete circle, but the fragmentation gives the cylinder a smaller, more human scale and also helps to create a visual distinction between the different functions of each curve.

For architect Thomas Gouws, the designer of this 550m2 house of curves, working within the limitations of a fake Tuscan framework was no easy task.

‘We had to use specific tiles for the roof, for example. Because they are visually so heavy, I introduced glass panels between the steel structure and the roof to create the illusion of something lighter, almost floating. The panels also help the interior spaces to breathe better.’

Thomas explains that, in the design, he also wanted to suggest another, outdoor lifestyle.

‘The whole design process, of house and garden together, was a deliberate attempt to blur the boundaries between indoors and out; to treat them not as competing spaces but as extensions of each other; and to keep the people who live here continuously in touch with nature via the garden, the stream that flows near the house and the natural plant life of the immediate environment.’

A remote country environment

Beyond the stream, a green belt on a koppie separates the estate from a neighbouring development. This belt consists mainly of a dense forest of endemic white stinkwood trees, which are characteristic of the Pretoria region.

‘In order to create privacy, I made the house fairly solid on the sides that look onto the neighbouring houses, but on the side overlooking the stream and green belt, the glass façade makes you feel as though you are in a remote country environment. A visitor once remarked that once you’re in the house, you completely forget that you are actually in Italy!’

Light was another important consideration in the design process. The interior spaces needed to be simple and open; glass was used liberally – in particular, frameless glass used for the sliding doors makes them ‘disappear’ so that, even when indoors, you feel as though you are relaxing in the garden.

Interior consultant Sureen Uys, a friend of Gouws, helped to furnish the interior spaces. ‘When people buy furniture, they often forget the bigger picture and then don’t understand why the furniture doesn’t quite work in the space. We looked for strong architectural pieces that echoed the design of the house itself: simple lines and colours, but in various textures.’

Against the walls, the German photographer Sasha Lipka’s black-and-white photographs enhance the simple graphic lines of the interior with images of buildings that look as though they are hanging in space.

In the bathrooms, the garden is echoed in leaf-green glass plates attached to the walls with silicon. This contemporary alternative to tiles is not only more luxurious but also more waterproof and easier to clean. The natural mood of the bathrooms is followed through in travertine finishes that also provide a note of contrast. The lower part of the exterior glass is sandblasted, yet still allows a view of the stream. In this house, inside and out are truly one and the same.

• Thomas Gouws Architects: 012 460 9867, 083 381 6674,,