Reduced glamour

PHOTOS Dook PRODUCTION Annemarie Meintjes WORDS Jacquie Myburgh Chemaly

The neutral tones of grey, brown and black in this Forest Town home speak of a new minimalism. The unobtrusive marble, glass and concrete rectangular forms were inspired by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion.

When Shaun Baker went to meet architect Bryan Dunstan of BD Studio to discuss plans for his new Forest Town home, he took with him a rectangular piece of grey stone. Its clean lines and neutral colour were to be the chief source of inspiration for the calm space that was subsequently created.

Shaun, one of three partners in the new Johannesburg-based fabric house George Baker, also brought with him a love for one of the most iconic buildings of the modern movement, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion.

The pavilion, with its low roof, luxurious marble and lengthening travertine tiles, was destroyed a year after it was built in the 1920s, but was rebuilt in the 1980s. Its elegant tranquility has been ascribed to its lavish use of marble and glass in exquisitely simple lines, with a glassy pond adding to the mood. 

A house that lives lightly

Bryan has successfully created a similar serenity in Shaun’s unobtrusive marble, glass and concrete home. In substance, the house is as compact as an apartment. But it lives lightly, with the rectangular living area sitting gently between a long black swimming pool and a peaceful fishpond. When the doors are open, this room has Barcelona written all over it – it’s as if the entire house becomes a cool verandah inviting the outside all the way in.

The Scic Italian kitchen is a cleverly concealed galley within this space and is another cool, unobtrusive area where everything is hidden behind clean white doors.

And while the living and dining furniture is minimal, the mood is a far cry from the harsh minimalism of the 1980s.

Shaun worked with Greenside interior design firm, Mezzanine, and has made extensive use of his own fabrics. There are soft laundered linens in shades of grey on the ottoman, couches and even the flop-down sofa out on the verandah, while two armchairs are covered in an Asian-inspired fabric by Jim Thompson – an international brand imported by T&Co and stocked by George Baker in Johannesburg. 

Fabric label launched

Shaun and his partner Mandy Griffiths have worked in the fabric industry for many years and launched George Baker Furnishing Fabrics and Wallcoverings in May 2010. It’s a brand they feel caters for a very specific need.

“There’s plenty of cheap fabric around, as well as some very expensive fabric. We have created something for the niche in between and the response has been fantastic,” says Mandy.

All the company’s fabrics are imported, but they carry the George Baker label – and South African pricing. The look and feel of the range is very much in keeping with the style of Shaun’s house: natural cottons, laundered linens and Italian cotton velvets in a neutral, low-sheen palette.

Authentic minimal style

These same muted tones are carried into the house’s bedrooms and bathrooms. Built onto the eastern side of the house, the two bedrooms sit on top of each other, with floating oak stairs leading the way up. Interior woodwork, done by Marcus Pieterse of Make, adds warmth among all the marble and glass.

The exterior walls are coated in a tyrolean cement finish that will weather naturally. “I wanted to allow the building to weather in a poetic way in order to tie it to the site,” says architect Bryan Dunstan, who also designed artist William Kentridge’s downtown studio.

The clean interiors of the building are made possible by an enormous, but invisible, storage area beneath it. The house is built over an old swimming pool – and Bryan suggested turning that entire excavated space into a basement, making it possible for Shaun to live in authentically minimal style.

George Baker 011 024 2747, 083 453 8788,
BD Studio Architects 011 482 7942,
Make 011 614 9900, 011 888 3986,