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This Johannesburg Home Feels Like a Luxuriously Modern Tree House

This minimalist Johannesburg home is anchored by its imposing, shady trees

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By House & Garden South Africa | January 14, 2024 | Interiors

The design of this Johannesburg family home is based on a simple idea, but makes for a powerful response to the distinctive character of its tree’d suburban setting.

Sometimes Johannesburg's suburbs - particularly the older ones - feel as if they are in the countryside. When their gardens are anchored by beautiful big trees, as they often are, and the branches spread out like roofs in their own right, arriving home can feel almost like an escape from the city. There's greenery and birdsong, and the bustle of urban life can seem far away.

“It's like nothing can touch you,” says architect Enrico Daffonchio, who worked closely with his colleague Frances Rogers on the design of this home in Westcliff, one of the first suburbs that were established in the city.

Am overlapping, interconnected living space defines the ground floor. The circular dining table and chairs contrast with the clean-lined living space and sculptural staircase. Photography by Greg Cox.

Frances and Enrico took their cue from this rather distinctive aspect of the area's character, responding to the sense of sanctuary while opening the house to the garden and inviting the atmosphere in as much as they could.

The house is built on a site that was once a tennis court that belonged to the property next door. It's at the end of a long driveway, so its sense of seclusion is somewhat exaggerated. The big idea', as Enrico calls it, is remarkably simple. Frances explains that it began with a 'double-volume patio': a big, airy, covered outdoor living and entertaining space.

Rather than seeing the patio as an extension of the house, however, this one ended up becoming the very heart of the home.

The guest bedroom on the ground floor features a custom-made bed unit. Photography by Greg Cox.

In fact, you could almost say it subsumed the rest of the house and became its defining feature: a slim, elegant oversailing flat roof that floats on impossibly thin steel columns, sheltering the rest of the house. At almost eight metres high, the entire double-storey house appears to nestle beneath the giant canopy.

At the centre, a beautiful, voluminous outdoor entertainment area with dining and seating has you feeling that you are outside in the garden, so high is the roof and open the space, but nevertheless secure and sheltered. The idea was that you would feel 'held' and cocooned, even in one of the Highveld's summer storms, which often arrive dramatically in the afternoons before Clearing and ushering in a peaceful evening with the atmosphere washed clean.

The private balcony leading off the master bedroom. Photography by Greg Cox.

Two of the bedrooms on the upper level - one on either end - have balconies that project into this generous volume, bringing down the scale and bookending the patio space. Not only does this arrangement balance the lofty dimensions with cosier, more intimate indoor-outdoor areas, but having balconies and other nooks within the larger volume creates various degrees of 'insideness and outsideness' as Enrico puts it. The transitions are complex and blurred, which has the effect of forging a strong connection between house and garden.

It also results in that very difficult, but highly sought-after quality in a home: a connected space that simultaneously allows privacy and community. Members of the family can be alone together - and join each other seamlessly on a whim, almost without having to move. From the bedroom balconies, you simply need to look over onto the entertainment space to feel part of it all. The bedrooms without balconies have timber screens that slide aside - as can the floor-to-ceiling glass doors - to transform the rooms themselves into balconies of a kind. Glass balustrades keep the connection seamless and the view out uninterrupted.

The black kitchen by Future Classics at the end of the living space is a masterclass in minimalism. Photography by Greg Cox.

From the patio and balconies (and, indeed, from the open plan living space), you look out onto a beautifully sculptural, rather minimalist garden designed by Tim Steyn; anchored by giant oak trees and rising to a row of trees and shrubs at the far end, on the other side of which is a local school's playing field. At certain times of the day, the sounds of children playing waft into the house.

Together with the tranquil sounds of the pond and water features and the birdsong in the trees, the distant sounds from the playing fields leave you feeling, as Enrico puts it, as if 'the whole world is coming in'. You feel simultaneously 'elevated above everything and connected. »

“You feel as if the whole world is coming in simultaneously elevated above everything and connected” — Enricho Daffonchio

In the master bedroom, the warmth and rich texture of the timber finishes bring a sense of luxury and comfort to the clean lined, sleek interior design. This sense is emphasised by the courtyard gardens and green 'fingers' that wrap around the sides and back of the house, coming right up to the floor-to-ceiling windows and knitting the architecture and its surroundings together. While the front garden, with its geometric forms, seems to be an extension of the architecture, these pockets of greenery seem the bring nature to the doorstep.

The outdoor space is warmed, and softened by a dining table and benches by Pierre Cronje. Photography by Greg Cox.

Frances notes that inside the house, the design intentionally maintains clean lines and the continuity of the levels. The effect is undeniably calming. While the living space is open plan, fusing and overlapping kitchen, dining and lounge areas, these continuities create a sense of coherence and unity. It's almost as if the idea of the outer volume is reprised inside.

The kitchen and a beautifully sculptural staircase seem to float within the interior. The kitchen itself resolves into a neat, seamless surface that all but disappears against one wall.

The sleek lines are softened and warmed, as Frances puts it, by a rich palette of natural materials, from timber and stone to concrete and, in the furnishings, leather and steel. Beautiful cabinetry and panelling, especially upstairs, bring homeliness to the refinement. The natural materials and textures introduce something almost cosy to the calmness. Planters bordering the balconies upstairs add a touch of nature beneath the canopy, too, but everywhere inside, windows open onto courtyards and pockets of greenery.

The en suite bathroom off the master bedroom also looks over a private balcony and out over the garden. Photography by Greg Cox.

As much as it offers a sense of seclusion and sanctuary, this house is a grounded, connected place. It belongs there among the trees, and makes you feel like you belong, too.

Text by Graham Wood.