Mid-Century Homes That Perfectly Capture the Spirit of Modern Design

COMPILED BY Gina Dionisio


We glance back at some of VISI’s most breathtaking mid-century gems from Plett to Paris.

Fish Hoek House

Mid-Century Homes
Mid-Century Homes

As many couples did during the pandemic, Lauren Shantall and her husband Derek Eyden re-evaluated their lifestyle. To beat the claustrophobia of their new work-from-home regimen, Lauren, who runs her own PR company, and musician Derek would regularly pile into the car with their 13-year-old son Daniel, and make the trek from Rosebank in the heart of Cape Town’s suburbia to the Deep South – the colloquial name used for the slack-paced string of suburbs that hug the Cape Peninsula’s coastline. “We were waking up three, four times a week to go for sunrise swims,” says Lauren. “Covid meant that I suddenly lost 40% of my business – but it also meant that I could work from anywhere. We realised we could minimise our petrol bill and just move to live next to the ocean!”

The Mid-century Prairie-style house the couple ended up buying in Fish Hoek wasn’t exactly their architectural dream, but its lofty location against the mountain, with a view of both the Atlantic and Indian oceans, was. “It was one of those 1960s box houses, where you open the front door and walk into a rectangle,” says Lauren. “Derek and I knew roughly what we wanted to do. We measured the space, made little scale drawings and cut out pieces of furniture that we’d move around, trying endless configurations.”

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Kenilworth House

Mid-Century Homes
Mid-Century Homes

You know, I counted every single brick in this house,” says architect Adèle Naudé Santos, smiling, as she stands looking around the main bedroom of the first house she ever designed – a solid Modernist four-bedroomer completed in 1967 and situated in a narrow, leafy avenue in Cape Town’s Kenilworth.

She may not actually be joking. Their modular layout, visible through the unplastered whitewashed walls, means you could conceivably measure the dimensions of the house brick by brick. US-based Adèle may now be a world-renowned architect, but back then she was just starting her career, and this was her first-ever build. And as if the stakes weren’t high enough, the client was her father, the late architect Hugo Naudé.

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Greenside Home

Mid-Century Homes
Mid-Century Homes

It takes a good eye to spot potential in a fixer-upper, particularly in a city like Johannesburg. There are some real gems – almost always undervalued – but their qualities are often lost beneath the add-ons that barnacle their way onto houses over time. Christo Vermeulen and Nico Venter are serial renovators. Inevitably, after a few years of living in a house, they find their eyes wandering.

They most certainly do have a knack for recognising the signs that something special might be lurking beneath the surface a nondescript exterior. Christo is a former textile designer turned builder/renovator – with a sideline in manufacturing bespoke features, especially metalwork and ironmongery – and Nico is an urban designer with an interest in the city’s architectural history. Together, they make a formidable team: insightful and capable, with the perfect combination of vision and respect for the innate qualities of a good find.

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Mid-century-Inspired Plettenberg Bay Home

Mid-Century Homes
Mid-Century Homes

Looks can be deceiving. At first glance, this creatively terraced home may appear small – but a stroll through the property reveals both space and a sense of intimacy, based around the focal point of the garden.

Architect Guillaume Pienaar’s brief may have also appeared relatively simple: to build a cost-effective home for a family of three, including an option to work from home. Accomplishing it was a little more complex. “We wanted to create a family home that was unique, connected to the outdoors, sustainably built, and within our rather modest budget,” explain homeowners Anthea and Conrad Buys. “It was important for the house to be equipped for both of us to work from home, but also to maintain separation between work and life.” Another requirement was the ability to host visitors from Joburg (where Anthea and Conrad used to live) while giving them privacy and space.

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Paris Apartment

Mid-Century Homes
Mid-Century Homes

Emmanuel de Bayser is lucky enough to divide his time between two of Europe’s great locales: Berlin and Paris. In Berlin, he runs his fashion and design store, The Corner Berlin – and when in residence in his Paris apartment, he works intensely on selecting the very best in current fashion, design and decor for The Corner.

Emmanuel’s Paris pied-à-terre is situated in a building that’s typical of the neoclassical style in which Parisian dwellings were constructed during the time of Georges-Eugène Haussmann’s famous “renovation” of the city in the 19th century – even though it was actually built a number of years after the legendary city planner’s death in 1891.

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Linksfield Ridge Home

Mid-Century Homes
Mid-Century Homes

Polish-born architect Frank Jarrett left a rather eclectic collection of landmarks across the city of Johannesburg, his works ranging from the offices of Chancellor House – the original home of Mandela and Tambo Attorneys – to the slightly less discreet Gold Reef City theme park development. In 1951, Jarrett was commissioned to build a private residence on the Linksfield Ridge for Greek timber merchant Manoussos Broulidakis, who clad the interior of the modern stone, brick and terrazzo home in glowing floor-to-ceiling wood. Thankfully, many of these features remain today. The front door is Burmese teak, the floors are covered in gleaming parquet. But perhaps most breathtaking of all are the richly varnished panels of sandblasted pine that line the eastern wall between the living area and the kitchen, and which enclose a Bond-worthy staircase leading up to the home’s bedrooms.

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Modernist Parktown North Home

Mid-Century Homes
Mid-Century Homes

Houses designed by the Mid-century architect Michael Sutton inspire a rare devotion among Johannesburg design lovers. And so it was for Marilyn McDowell, who lives in a house that has a special place in Joburg design lore: the cluster or “compound”, as she jokingly calls it, in Parktown North where Sutton himself lived, and built a house for his sister, the landscaper Ann Sutton.

“I have had a complete passion for Michael Sutton’s homes since I was in my 20s,” says Marilyn, a one-time interior designer. It wasn’t until her 40s, however, that she managed to bag one, and she’s lived in it for over 30 years. “He had such an amazing understanding of space,” she says. “He was a visionary.”

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Westcliff Ridge Home

Mid-Century Homes
Mid-Century Homes

It’s rare in this country that homeowners inherit a building of distinct architectural heritage, especially in a city as young as Johannesburg. So when husband and wife Silvio Rech and Lesley Carstens, of leading architecture studio Silvio Rech & Lesley Carstens Adventure Architecture, spied the late-1950s house at the dead-end of their lane in Westcliff’s uppermost reaches, they kept a beady eye on its movements.

“What I liked about it is that it’s so simple… We’ve been over-cluttering everything,” remarks Silvio. Still, dense overgrowth concealed the view entirely, and there were those who advised the couple to simply knock it down. Architecture devotees, however, favoured retaining its roots as an American Bungalow, and when they discovered that there was, in fact, a view beyond the trees, they did what any architect would do: they respected the building’s heritage.

Read the full story, here.


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