Overhead on shelf: “Rawbots” by Jasper Eales have become increasingly collectible.
“Contemporary, modern, with a peaceful, uncluttered ambiance inspired by Japanese homes.” This is how Yola Bergh sums up her weekend home, Fabaceae, set against the mountains in Cape Town’s southern suburbs. “I have been to Japan many times and aesthetically, their architectural simplicity and use of natural materials, without clutter, resonates with me,” Bergh adds. “Few, beautiful things are used to enhance Japanese homes, and the emphasis on functionality also appeals to me.”
Fabaceae bears testimony to this in its every feature – from the master bedroom’s Monterey Cypress timber (the original trees stood on the site), to superb modernist pieces (an Eames chair; a Jasper Eales light fixture), and from the large granite boulders punctuating the indigenous garden to her choice of architect: Chilean-born Antonio Zaninovic with his design philosophy of “being guided by the landscape.”
The Bergh’s spend their weeks at their Cedarberg farm (they’re large rooibos tea producers and appropriately, Fabaceae takes its name from the tea’s botanical family) while daughter Alexandra lives in Newlands full time. “From here, we hike in the mountains, go to the sea to ski and surf, and can easily get to shows and restaurants, and entertaining our Cape Town friends is easy,” says Bergh of Fabaceae’s location. “We love that the compact nature of the bedrooms allows for more rooms rather than bigger rooms to accommodate our large family – we have four children! And the open-plan living area allows us to see our children and their friends and cousins all together,” quips Bergh. The courtyard’s granite boulders, slate wall and indigenous planting create a visual and textural link to Table Mountain. Both the downstairs living area and upstairs master bedroom look out onto a natural courtyard with indigenous plants, including an iconic South African fever tree. The living space opens out onto the outside courtyard, and a wood-burning stove keeps the entire house cozy.
Several distinct but seamlessly-joined outdoor areas further expand the living space. There’s a patio with mountain views that’s perfect for parties, braais (barbecues) and early mornings; the garden and courtyard become part of the living area once the glass doors are opened; an upstairs deck with a gazebo and a pool provide more views and another social hub.
Zaninovic describes the house as “modern, yet grounded” and “contextual,” noting that “Light is the most important aspect of my work and the house is oriented in such a way that every room gets light throughout the day.” The other key feature is the courtyard – an integrating pivot with its mountain views, connection to all the rooms and incorporation of the natural environment. But equally striking are the tensions and harmonies at play in the house’s building materials, which function as far more than just practical structural elements. The upstairs bedrooms have floors of Monterey Cypress wood, reclaimed from original trees which grew on the site. A pair of Parker Knoll chairs accentuates the house’s modern elements. The bedroom’s artworks are by Joanna Mell.
It’s the perfect backdrop for carefully selected modernist furniture, such as the 50s wooden bench from Denmark, the collectible 60s coffee table and the pair of Parker Knoll chairs, also from the 60s. These retro gems sit easily alongside contemporary pieces, such as the Phillemon Hlungwani artwork in the entrance hall and the light fixture above the dining table and the “Rawbots” on the SCAN woodburning stove, both by Jasper Eales. Olaf Hajek is one of Bergh’s “all-time favorite artists” and his “African Beauty” hangs on the paneled feature wall, while another can be found in the master bedroom and a third adorns one of the downstairs’ bedrooms.
Steel, glass, wood, concrete and corcoleum engage in a dialogue that brings together East and West, old and new, hard and soft and engineered and organic. “This is something that I try to achieve in my work, as a way of balancing nature and manmade,” explains Zaninovic.The wood-paneled feature wall in the living area is a both a Japanese accent and a link between interior and exterior. The dining table was made from Monterey Cypress trees growing on the original site. The Jasper Eales light fixture is a favorite of Yola’s. Imported Italian purple swivel chair.
“That is why the rocks in the courtyard are so important, and the wild cushion of vegetation that helps balance the austerity of the architecture.”
Strategically-placed timber features also create a warm counterpoint to the architectural austerity. A Merantipaneled feature wall lends a distinctly Japanese feel to the downstairs open-plan living, dining and kitchen space. This is continued upstairs in the Japanese and Chinese screens in the bedroom and bathroom, while smoked kiaat (similar to “teak”) window frames and decking soften what might otherwise be a severe look, without detracting from the house’s sleek lines.
When asked to economically capture Fabaceae’s essence in a phrase, Zaninovic replies, “Hopefully, well-balanced!” It’s hard to imagine that anyone could disagree.
Photography Courtesy of Greg Cox, Lar Leslie.
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