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.
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.’
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.
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.
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.’
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.
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.’
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.’
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.
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.
- Geppetto’s World: geppettosworld.co.za
- Gregory Katz: gregorykatz.co.za
- Nan Roberts Estates: 082 451 4597 or nanrobertsestates.co.za