Joburg farm style

WORDS Nia Magoulianiti-McGregor PHOTOS Elske Kritzinger,

Warm in winter, cool in summer, architect Gillian Holl‘s house at Monaghan Farm near Lanseria is sustainable, ecologically sound, and an intrinsic part of its surroundings.

It’s a Highveld winter’s day, yet there’s no need to light the Morso fireplace in the centre of Gillian and Ivan Holl’s living room in their house at Lanseria’s Monaghan Farm. That’s because, as the architect who took “around six to eight months” to plan every detail, Gillian set their steel-and-glass house facing just off-north, so the sun spills through for most of the day, penetrating through the glass panels that act as walls and heating the terrazzo tiles that radiate and retain heat. The overhang of the roof optimises the angle of the sun in these cold months. “The solar panels on the roof warm the underfloor water heating and geyser – and the pool for summer days,” says Gillian.

It helps that this house, built in the heart of an authentic African landscape, in a working farm north of Johannesburg has unspoilt, long-range views of the veld with direct sunshine uninterrupted by the shadows of high-density buildings or the sardine-can nature of Tuscan-style developments.

It’s this African countryside “where Nguni cows graze the fields, where there are rolling hills and grasslands,” that spurred Gillian and her mechanical engineer husband Ivan to buy a 3 400sqm stand the same day they took their first day trip to Monaghan. “We went just to humour an architect friend who said we’d love it.”

Ivan is the son of a farmer and Gillian – a self-described “minimalist and a modernist” – the granddaughter of one and both say they have the memory of farms in their blood. “We wanted our four-year-old son Noah, to experience that lifestyle.”

And so began the start of Gillian’s design concept: Her “modernist” bent referenced architect Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion and his New National Gallery in Berlin with its “lightweight structure and huge panes of glass giving way to fluid, open spaces”.

“I used a steel-framed structure with slot glass panels for an inside-outside living room. While we constructed a spine wall of rammed earth using excavated soil and lime in line with our ethos of sustainability, the majority of the house – aside from the bedroom areas – is transparent allowing unobstructed views.” On a sunny day, Gillian opens up the panels completely so there are no barriers to the space outside.

The kitchen is “the heart” of their home. “It’s an extension of the architecture of the house. We chose indigenous brown kiaat along with recycled steel. Joinery maker Gustaf Smook made the kitchen cabinets and woodwork so that the kitchen drawers are slanted, contrasting with the streamlined cupboards.”

Smook manufactured most of the wooden furnishings in the house including Noah’s bunk bed and the internal solid wood kiaat doors.

Ivan designed the garage door suspended from a steel beam with steel wheels as well as the grid over their koi dam and the Rhodesian teak herb box. Still, says Gillian, her childhood sweetheart’s most endearing quality is, she says, “that he allows me to dream”.

In summer, they’ll swim in a pool with no chlorine. “It’s environmentally sound and water is filtered using plants” – so sound in fact that they will share the pool with around 50 or so fish.

“Last Sunday was such a beautiful day, the three of us cycled around the farm. We are close to the city, but world’s apart. We are a part of nature.”