It’s not hard to see why this house at Johannesdal garnered architect Henri Comrie a coveted Cape Institute of Architecture Award. Inspired by Le Corbusier, its vast white lime-treated walls, expansive spaces, exposed brickwork, integrated industrial metal, raw concrete ceilings, untreated wood, limestone and glass make a strong Modernist statement – without feeling incongruous to its nearly 6-acre country smallholding or alongside the Cape vernacular architecture that characterizes the greater area.
Owner Dane Erwee describes it as “modern meets farmhouse,” and explains that he and his partner Chris Willemse envisioned “something that nestles; a modern exterior but with a farmhouse interior.” And their aesthetic flair is as much the reason for Johannesdal’s success as is Comrie’s design.
Creative expression comes easily to Dane and Chris; it’s second nature to them: they not only live it but make a living from it (Okasie florist and events company in Stellenbosch is their baby). With Johannesdal, the feeling is that they haven’t had to “try” hard at all. It’s rather that they’ve enjoyed the freedom to play.
“We spend a lot of time in the garden and are mostly outside,” notes Dane. “We like things that are honest and true to our roots and lifestyle.”
“No fixed cupboards” is their only design rule and a light, almost mischievous, touch pervades everything. At every turn there’s an unexpected vignette to arrest the eye. Yet while freely unorthodox and at times perhaps theatrical, there’s a sense that every inch of the décor is underpinned by carefully- considered curation. “Authentic and not forced,” is how Dane describes their design ethos. “Styled as opposed to decorated: collections that tell stories.”
What’s more, like these plates, each tableau has breathing room: Dane and Chris have made sure that there’s plenty of neutral space to act as restful pauses for the eye; no matter how eye-catching, no vignette ever overshadows Johannesdal’s structural character or its rooted sense of place.
Because collections are everywhere. “What don’t I collect!” exclaims Dane. “I like things that tell a story; things with dirt on them and not something I would find in a mall.”
But layered, colorful and dramatic though the many arranged collections may be, there’s nothing uptight or “precious” about them. Rules of symmetry aren’t religiously applied; indeed, they seem to have deliberately been thwarted. These tableaux aren’t mere messy jumbles: each has a common thread that turns the assemblage of objects into an intellectually-engaging narrative as well as a visual treat. Their every element is invested with personal or historic meaning; they share a common soul. “We don’t find them – they find us. They’re mostly passed-on heirlooms, gifts and junkshop or reclamation yard finds,” explains Dane. “For example, I grew up with the blue-and-white plates that hang on the wall in the living area; it was my mother’s collection. I recently unpacked it and the vine growing through it is a new take on something old. In a way, I guess it may also be a nod to South African Dutch heritage, but that wasn’t my specific intention.”
From the light-filled triple-volume entrance hall with its honed limestone floors and raw concrete ceilings, to the untreated pine passage leading to the private study, main bedroom, wet-room, bathroom and dressing area, and from the open-plan dining and kitchen area with its exposed I-beam to the patinated lime-treated walls common to every space, the building itself is the star – and the real “it” factor is its interface with the natural surroundings. There can be absolutely no doubt of where in the world one is.
“We like things that are honest and true to our roots and lifestyle.” Johannesdal is the perfect illustration of exactly that, within a distinctly Modernist idiom.
Photography by Greg Cox. Production by Retha Erichsen.
This story originally appeared in the ASPIRE DESIGN AND HOME Summer issue. See the rest of the images with a subscription to the magazine.