A South African Farm-Style House, Reinterpreted for Modern Living

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A large Wildberry tree sits in the middle of the site, and rather than being leveled to make room for a house, it instead became the inspiration for this working dairy farm estate in South Africa. Strey Architects & Associates used the challenge to inform the design, creating a unique layout with the Wildberry as the focal point of a lovely courtyard, where it can be seen from the main living areas of the house.

A courtyard-style house is wonderfully suited to indoor-outdoor living. It also allows for plenty of north-facing glass, which (in the southern hemisphere) means great passive heating. Strey Architects gave the house two large wings, linking them with a lower hall that functions as an entry, gallery, and office space, thus giving the house its name - the “Link House”. The linking section also creates a barrier between the street and the courtyard, between public and private, making the living areas feel secluded and sheltered.

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The separation of public and private is further tuned inside the house through the function of the two wings. One wing houses the semi-private living and entertaining spaces: a spacious living area with a soaring tongue-in-groove rafter ceiling that opens onto the courtyard, an open kitchen with an exquisite all-wood island, a connecting dining area and frequently-used guest quarters above. The other wing is even more private but definitely not lacking in style, with delightful family quarters for the owners and their two busy boys. 

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One thing that really struck me in this house is the attention to detail paid to the ceilings. None of the ceilings are plain drywall; they’re either beautiful, soaring rafters that float away from you or ultra-textural concrete with perfectly placed seams held by I-beams over claristory windows. It’s quite delicate, although you’d never guess at first glance. The concrete feels so heavy, yet it’s placed over the claristory windows, as if floating in place. It’s a dance - so much tension to the idea, and yet it looks effortless. Then you enter the main living area and the concrete is replaced by a vaulted ceiling with rafters and tongue-in-groove paneling all painted white almost as if it wasn’t there at all. The vault is reminiscent of 19th Century Victorian farmhouses of the area, while the concrete is quite contemporary. This house finds joy in exploring contrasts, and the ceilings are a perfect example.

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The attention to detail continued to the sustainability aspect. The walls and ceilings are well-insulated (including between the brick on the exterior walls), and all windows are double-glazed. “An ‘alternative’ to a float foundation was tried out with permission from the client, resulting in a cost & time saving as well as making it possible to insulate the floor which is not the case with a ‘traditional’ raft foundation.” The water is heated using solar power, with gas as a backup, and you can see the rainwater collection tanks made of corrugated metal at the back of the house. Additionally, the large windows allow the sun to heat the home in winter.

Allowing the site to inform the home design endowed it with a strong sense of place and with a thoughtful and unique character that delights the homeowners and guests alike. It helped often abstract decisions, such as the shape of the home and how water is heated, make sense, so the house works as a whole.

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Architect: Strey Architects & Associates | Photos used with permission