Select Page

Play house

Play house

An ingenious addition to this Johannesburg home puts a new spin on tradition, making a unique space that inspires creative living.

As Colin and Tammy Levin’s family grew, the point came at which they thought they might have to leave their home in Johannesburg. ‘It was a typical Parkhurst scenario,’ says Tammy. ‘As the family gets bigger, the house gets too small.’ But around that time, the property next door to theirs became available, presenting new possibilities.

REAL ESTATE Magazine-April-2016-Show-House-Update-01-394x500

The covered patio is a simple open space below the bedrooms, used by Tammy and Colin Levin and their children as an outdoor entertainment area for dining and lounging. It could, however, very simply be glassed in to create the living area and kitchen of a second, separate home. The Tolina Accent Chairs are from La Grange interiors, the outdoor dining table from Con Amore and the screen with pot plants and ceramics by Anatomy Design


They approached architect Gregory Katz, and with him devised an ingenious plan to join the two properties and extend their house. ‘But we designed it in such a way that the addition could stand on its own as an individual house at a later stage,’ Gregory adds. Colin and Tammy’s original house, built of brick, with the corrugated-iron roof traditional in the area, was left largely unchanged, apart from a kitchen revamp. ‘All they really needed were bedrooms,’ says Gregory, ‘so what we did with the addition was lift the whole house up on columns and put the bedrooms upstairs.’


The covered patio has been plumbed and the threshold details have been finished in readiness for a quick, practical conversion; the slide and jungle gym in the back garden are by Danish firm Kompan. The sandpit has been sunk into the lawn, seamlessly integrating the landscape and play areas; the original house and addition are separated by a sliding door, and extends from an outdoor area with a lap pool on one side to a courtyard area on the other; the house features pieces that bridge the gap between modernity and tradition, their sense of craftsmanship beautifully befitting the home’s ongoing dialogue between past and present


That left the downstairs covered but open, creating an entertainment space ‘like a giant patio’. An extension of the original home’s living area has become a bridge joining the two, so that together they form a U shape around a grassy courtyard. ‘The idea is that someone buying that house already has all the bedrooms upstairs, and they could close off the downstairs section and convert it into a living area and kitchen,’ Gregory explains. All the plumbing for this possible future kitchen is already in place. Separating the two houses would involve simply building a wall between the properties and glassing in the section downstairs. There are even garages.

REAL ESTATE Magazine-April-2016-Show-House-Update-17-394x500-2

Gregory prefers wet rooms to traditional bathrooms – another of his trademarks is the way he celebrates the beauty of functional materials and design; the main bedroom has beautiful light and expansive volumes thanks to the pitched ceilings; Gregor Jenkin’s Quaker Chairs are a take on traditional Ercol Quaker Chairs but in steel, and his Turned Table presents a playful take on design


Colin and Gregory have a shared love of geometry and ingenious, flexible spaces. Gregory’s work is often recognisable for the patterning in the details as much as for the sometimes Rubik’s Cube-like ingenuity of the structures themselves.

Colin is an engineer-turned-designer and manufacturer of cutting-edge indoor and outdoor children’s play equipment through his award-winning company Geppetto’s World. He designed the PlayOn brand, which is geometric soft equipment combining blocks, rollers, barrels and wedges that encourages creative but purposeful free play. ‘We go with modular concepts that are non-prescriptive so that [kids] can be imaginative with the equipment,’ Colin explains.

REAL ESTATE Magazine-April-2016-Show-House-Update-05-394x500

The lounge area, another of the versatile, multi-use spaces that characterise the downstairs section of the addition, is defined by a Persian rug which highlights the interesting mix of materials used for the floors. The luxurious deep-buttoned Chesterfield couch is from Con Amore


Colin and Gregory’s shared philosophy led to a design for a home that would be flexible and creativity-inspiring with clever geometry at its heart. ‘Together they created a space that is unique and forward thinking,’ says Tammy. ‘Greg and Colin were both interested in how simple we could make the design so that we could allow for really creative living, using the space differently all the time.’

REAL ESTATE Magazine-April-2016-Show-House-Update-06-394x500

Colin with the children, Zac (6) and twins Jesse and Leyla (3), in the original section of their home. The kitchen has come to serve a slightly different function as the point at which the original house connects to the new living spaces. The Adam Bar Stools are from La Grange Interiors


Although they used concrete for the new building, juxtaposing it with the brick of the first house, the new structure is a contemporary rendering of the old one. ‘We tried to interpret the architecture of the original house, and almost transplant it onto the first floor,’ says Gregory. They left the concrete raw so that the contrast between the old and the new would spark a dialogue between the two sections.

REAL ESTATE Magazine-April-2016-Show-House-Update-07-394x500

The simple design allows for creative living, using the space differently all the time


The bedrooms and playroom upstairs in the new section reinterpret the pitched roof of the old house, but with a sleeker, more geometric execution. ‘We used quite a sophisticated roof structure,’ explains Gregory. ‘We used sloping steel beams to create the pitch so we could slope the ceiling. You get nice volume, but none of the clutter of trusses. Then we punched in a dormer window so that the ceiling recedes into the window and you get amazing light and shadow play on the ceiling.’

REAL ESTATE Magazine-April-2016-Show-House-Update-08-592x394

The original house and the addition meet in the dining room. A pair of Comeback chairs from Kartell at the head and foot of the long antique dining table represent Spanish designer Patricia Urquiola’s take on the classic Windsor chair, creating a dialogue with Jenkin’s Quaker Chairs in the casual dining area alongside the kitchen


Gregory also reinterpreted the corrugated-iron roof of the original house, using corrugated polycarbonate sheeting. ‘The polycarbonate is translucent, so you can make skylights without the risk of leaking because it’s a seamless profile,’ he adds. He also extended the sheeting from the roof down the side of the house so that it playfully treats the house like a ‘wrapped box’ with a lovely interplay of materials.

Tammy refers to the flexible, creative design as an empty canvas both for living and decorating. ‘From a creative point of view, there was something really interesting about having a space that you had this very organic relationship with,’ she says, ‘[but] I wanted to soften it, to traditionalise it a bit.’ She added a modern herringbone-parquet floor and black steel doors to separate the two areas.

Referring particularly to the living spaces downstairs, she says, ‘Over the years, those spaces have been everything you could possibly imagine. Every single time people would come to our house, it would be different. It’s a lot of fun, constantly reliving, reinventing, reworking the space.’


In the kitchen the ceiling was removed to create a greater volume and expose the roof trusses. The steel cabinet is from Amatuli; the wooden figure on the bookshelf (which doubles as a drinks cabinet) is a geometric puzzle that Tammy bought for Colin in Israel, made by Gaya – The Art of Thinking; a second living/entertainment space functions as a games room, with a beautiful built-in fireplace on a plinth and an exposed chimney


The Levins’ furniture beautifully accommodates the multiple reconfigurations. They’ve collected an eclectic combination of raw and refined pieces, mixing contemporary and traditional designs with the wit and flair befitting the house’s own dialogue with tradition. Gregor Jenkin’s steel reinterpretations of old Cape wooden furniture designs talk to the wonderful long wooden dining table with the kind of turned legs that inspired Jenkin’s design. Refined wooden chairs from Ligne Roset rub shoulders with luxurious deep-buttoned sofas. Lacquered Kartell dining chairs also pick up on Jenkin’s own take on an Ercol design in steel.

REAL ESTATE Magazine-April-2016-Show-House-Update-12-394x500

In the upstairs playroom of the new section, the pitched roof of the original house is reinterpreted as a sleeker version, using steel beams instead of trusses to create a refined finish. The dormer windows allow beautiful light into the upstairs rooms. The room features PlayOn creative free-play blocks designed by Colin. The red Togo sofa by Michel Ducaroy for Ligne Roset brightens the space, making a trio of primary colours with the sofa and kitchenette


Tammy muses that the same way in which Colin’s geometric equipment inspires creative play, the architecture of the house inspires creative living. ‘It’s about empowering people,’ she says. A home can do that.

REAL ESTATE Magazine-April-2016-Show-House-Update-13-394x500

The new downstairs entertainment space is like a giant patio, while an extension of the original living area has become a bridge joining the two

Contact Details


Text: Graham Wood /
Production: Sven Alberding /
Photographs: Greg Cox /


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow Us

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This