African Simplicity

Words by Graham Wood


A strange coincidence occurred when Eva Kavuma selected the site for her house on Monaghan Farm, near Lanseria north of Joburg. At the time, Monaghan Farm, now a much-awarded model for sustainable living, was a fledgling concept.


‘I wanted something simple but beautiful,’ says Eva, finally settling on a lush, undulating site on Todd Matshikiza Road, named after the legendary writer and composer – and Eva’s former father-in-law. ‘I wanted pockets of green, and character that wasn’t superimposed or clichéd. I really wanted it to be earthy and warm, and to have our spirit.’


Nor did Eva want the house to impose on its surroundings. ‘There is so much beauty in what is natural,’ she says. ‘If you don’t take advantage of that, I think you really miss out.’ To design her home she turned to her friend, architect Anna Claude Bailey, whose Danish mother passed on to her a love of the pared-down beauty of Scandinavian, design. ‘Eva and I coined the term Scand-afro to describe the result,’ laughs Anna.


The deck, which runs the length of the front of the house, includes a sunken seating are that does not obstruct the view from inside.


The defining feature of the house is its 50m-long and 5m-high spine, the first rammed earth wall on Monaghan Farm. ‘It’s like pulling the earth into a vertical wall,’ says Anna. It is made almost entirely from material on the site, a tactile and symbolic structure.


When it came to the interiors, ‘I didn’t want dead space, and I hate corridors’, says Eva. So the design creates pockets of space in its fluid, snaking circulation through a series of alternating courtyards and rooms. ‘The green spaces allow the house to breathe,’ says Anna. ‘They’re the lungs of the house.’ This way of breaking down the space creates a kind of intimacy, forming individual rooms that relate to each other through the interconnecting space.


The home’s gentle impact on its surroundings is carried through into a broader sustainable ethos, from its rainwater tanks to its natural finishes: FSC-certified wooden doors and windows, eco-cement, bamboo in the kitchen. Anna sourced alien-eradication poplar trees for additional woodwork and designed beautiful cupboard doors using wood salvaged from the builder’s shed.



The rooms are uncluttered, but subtly softened and given warmth and texture with cowhides, grass mats and a handwoven rug from India, bought on a trip to Spain. ‘I just needed something a bit rounder and more colourful here.’


Eva is from many places. As the child of a Ugandan civil servant, she went to school in England and Kenya, lived in Ethiopia and studied in the US. She also lived in France and Washington DC before moving to South Africa just before the 1994 elections.


‘Eva was looking for a contemporary African home that wasn’t overtly ethnic,’ recalls Anna. While it was to have local resonance, it needed to reflect her internationalism and love of simplicity.  The furnishings combine contemporary items – clean-lined wooden designs – with carved African artefacts – a spider stool from Ghana, an Ethiopian headboard, a bed from Cameroon – doors from India and artworks by artists Eva has made a point of meeting. There’s a steel ‘Turned Table’ server by Gregor Jenkin in the dining room, additions to traditional Cape furniture in different fabrics, and lamps from recycled materials by Philippe Bousquet.


The rooms are layered with fabrics, baskets, books and art from Ethiopia, Ghana, Sri Lanka and India. ‘I’m a bit of a collector,’ says Eva. In the library, the bookshelves hold family photographs and drawings by her young son.


The result is a home that is at once rooted and personal – to its place, its inhabitants and the world.


Visit Claud Bailey Architects at


Images: Greg Cox/Bureaux