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House Tour: See Inside a Johannesburg Home Where Old Meets New Through Tasteful Design

Explore the grounds of this Westcliff home where the main bedroom connects to the garden via a bridge

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By Kimberley Schoeman  | April 26, 2024 | Interiors

With the right orientation, fenestration and savvy planting choices, you can actually outsmart winter in Johannesburg altogether. And, when you’ve bought in one of the city’s most sought-after garden suburbs, where trees soar like monuments, vast gardens unfurl and historic hilltop homes abound, hacking the seasons makes for near-perfect living conditions.

In the kitchen, two bespoke pendant light fittings enhance the high ceilings and work with the island to anchor the space. Photography by Vignette.

Having bought their property in 2009 from late interior decorator Krysia Back, Jackie and Deon Wilken were drawn to its pristine 1930s heritage features and sprawling garden. The latter, amounting to nearly 4 500 square metres of green was, in and of itself, an exceptional feature.

Crittall-style doors establish an understated and elegant divide between the entrance and dining area. Photography by Vignette.

When they finally embarked on their renovation almost eight years later, it was light and warmth that they yearned for most. Tip-toeing around strict heritage guidelines, their changes included enlarging the home to the rear and above to accommodate four bedrooms, creating a large communal node for cooking, eating and gathering and moving the driveway, which had previously divided house and garden.

The new layout exists as an ode to the sun. Almost entirely glazed along the western and northern elevation, the kitchen, living and dining room collectively act as a sun trap. Where new and old meet, the U-shaped layout embraces a small gravelled courtyard endowed with an established pin oak, potted shrubs and a dining table.

From the main bedroom, a secluded terrace in the back garden can be accessed via a bridge. Photography by Vignette.

Once an inconsequential yard that fringed the original driveway, this space, according to Jackie, is arguably the home’s biggest triumph, manifesting as a sunny core throughout the seasons.

“When the doors are pulled back, it feels more like a patio,” Jackie notes. Having waved off suggestions of removing the oak, the tree now towers well above the new roof line. In its winter bareness, it allows the hot afternoon sun to creep deep into the adjacent spaces. Come spring and summertime, the oak’s new green coat filters the harsh west heat.

The formal living area forms part of the existing heritage house, featuring cottage pane bay windows. On the walls, Plascon’s Fat Alley Cat establishes a sense ofdrama and intimacy. Photography by Vignette.

Rather than pass the new build off as homogeneous, the extension is markedly contemporary with razor-sharp borders, streamlined aluminium windows and little decoration, manifesting as a floating white box with a generous arched entrance. Tempering this contrast is a blanket of tickey creeper, proliferating along the stippled plaster façade, softening the new and knitting in the old.

For the home’s designer, they were cautioned that their design changes would leave little room for art, but the garden is the art. Photography by Vignette.

To the rear, the slope climbs steeply, forming part of Westcliff’s characteristic rocky koppie. In honour of this exceptional view into gargantuan trees and hill-hugging foliage, the couple boldly chose to face their own bedroom south. What they lack in sunlight in this one instance, they gain in a sylvan panorama of tumbling greenery and a bedroom with genuine sanctuary status.

In winter, the courtyard functions as a sun trap, enveloping the adjoining dining room in warmth. The table is from The Crown Collection and the bamboo chairs were bought from a restaurant closing down. Photography by Vignette.

“Looking out from our bedroom, it’s hard to believe I’m in the city,” remarks Jackie. A shrewd bargain hunter with a penchant for old bamboo, Jackie has accumulated most of her furniture from second-hand markets such as Gumtree and Marketplace. This graciously with understated mix includes classical and vintage pieces, comfy slip-covered armchairs, and a plethora of smalls that lend the interior provenance. She casually points out that her handsome antique dining table from The Crown Collection brings her just as much joy as the inexpensive cane armchairs (scored from a restaurant closing sale) that surround it.

The Sir Herbert Baker-designed desk in the study was bought on auction and the Palladian-style cabinets were inherited from the previous homeowner, interior decorator Krysia Back. Photography by Vignette.

In the 700 square metres of garden that stretch beyond the original checkerboard entrance, Jackie put her skills as a landscape designer to work. While the garden was formalised and well cared for, she switched out species that were unsuited to either the deep shade or the change of season for evergreen and hardy varieties like spekboom, viburnum, star jasmine and Indian hawthorn.

Larger gatherings take place in the family room, which opens onto the courtyard. A Cara Saven print rests on a cabinet from Mavromac and The Gatehouse. Photography by Vignette.

A melange of greens all year round, her plantscape is organised into hedges and rows that give the garden structure but require little fuss. Having once been cautioned that her design changes would leave little room for artworks, Jackie quickly responded “My garden is my art. To me, it’s worth more than art.”

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Words by Mila Crewe-Brown.