House Tour

This chic bush home will seduce you with its endless views

This glass-and-thatch holiday home in the foothills of Limpopo’s Waterberg mountains allows you to get back to nature in the most stylish way

17 December 2017 - 00:00 By Graham Wood
The three chalets that make up this holiday home are all on stilts, on a concrete platform raised among the treetops.
The three chalets that make up this holiday home are all on stilts, on a concrete platform raised among the treetops.
Image: Greg Cox/bureaux.co.za

Depending on the time of day, the weather, the light and the season, you can see anything between three and seven layers of the Waterberg mountain range from the deck of this weekend getaway. It looks out from a ridge in the foothills across a vast valley of pristine bushveld towards a section of the range known as Boshoffsberg in the Marakele National Park.

"As the light changes and as the sun moves, as one layer seems to disappear, you become aware of another and then another," says owner Kobie Delport.

"Everyone underestimates how beautiful the views of the bushveld are," says architect Johan Wentzel, who, together with his wife and partner, Grete van As of W Design and Architecture Studio, designed the house. "We always think of an ocean view being dynamic, but this changes constantly."

For Kobie, the view was paramount. He wanted the architecture to be subservient to the setting, maximising it at every opportunity. More than anything, he wanted the house to be close to nature, and always aware of it. Due to aesthetic guidelines and building requirements on the reserve, the roofs had to be thatch, which necessitated a 45-degree pitch.

The cluster of glass-gabled chalets they conceived, while using simple materials, represents a complex relationship between the building and its natural setting.

The thatch-and-gum-poles typical of bushveld lodges actually belie a much more modern space - more closely resembling a series of glass pavilions than the more common lodge aesthetic.

Locals have nicknamed the chalets driehoekhuisies (little triangle houses) because of the gables' silhouettes.

Johan and Grete broke up the rooms into what Johan calls a "loose structure" with three separate pitched roofs each for the living area and two bedrooms, connected by a series of uncovered paths.

"With thatch-roof homes, the bigger they get, the higher and wider they become," says Johan. Breaking it up allowed each roof to be smaller and less imposing on the landscape, breaking the horizon as little as possible.

The structure is essentially a concrete platform on stilts - some more than 4m high. They basically "took a level and built a platform off it". "The house touches the ground with a series of columns," says Johan. These are barely visible now as the trees below have grown and the vegetation filled in. "This house is a platform in the bush - a viewing deck," says Johan.

The swimming pool, positioned in front of the deck, is on a lower level so it doesn't interfere with the view at all.
The swimming pool, positioned in front of the deck, is on a lower level so it doesn't interfere with the view at all.
Image: Greg Cox/bureau.co.za
By breaking up the living room and bedroom units into three separate parts, the architects were able to keep the thatch roofs relatively small and unimposing.
By breaking up the living room and bedroom units into three separate parts, the architects were able to keep the thatch roofs relatively small and unimposing.
Image: Greg Cox/bureaux.co.za
The main bedroom is on stilts that are higher than 4m, and has some of the best views.
The main bedroom is on stilts that are higher than 4m, and has some of the best views.
Image: Greg Cox/bureaux.co.za

Kobie decided to build the house himself and stayed on site for three months. "We weren't allowed to have workers inside the reserve outside working hours," he says, "so I booked them into a nearby hotel. Every day I would pick them up and take them to work." For his part, he slept in a rooftop tent on his trailer.

The concrete for the columns and platform was mixed with two mixers on site and thrown by hand. Kobie was careful to preserve indigenous tress, building around them. "There was a red bush willow right next to one of the foundations," he says. "I was worried that we'd damaged it, but it survived and is now a big tree."

The concrete platform topped with glass and thatch seems to float, while other sections are earthy and grounded. Solid walls were made from local rock. Over a history of  hundreds of years, the rock on the reserve had been mined for tin, and there were remnants of stone walls associated with the defunct mines.

"That's where we got the rocks from," says Kobie, who trucked them across the reserve in his Landcruiser.

The rock imparted a sense of gravity to the house, making it seem as if the walls were growing out of the landscape, "pushed together to make this shelter", as Johan puts it. The contrast of the rock with the light, glassy void of the interiors sets up a constant contrast - nature and building, solid and void, grounded and floating - creating a fuller awareness of nature.

 The fireplace serves as a focal point in the foreground, but with its floating chimney, frames the view rather than obstructing it.
The fireplace serves as a focal point in the foreground, but with its floating chimney, frames the view rather than obstructing it.
Image: Greg Cox/bureau.co.za
The dining area is positioned opposite the kitchen.
The dining area is positioned opposite the kitchen.
Image: Greg Cox/bureaux.co.za
The seating area is simply furnished and positioned to make the most of the view.
The seating area is simply furnished and positioned to make the most of the view.
Image: Greg Cox/bureau.co.za

The interior finishes are deliberately simple: cement screed floors, concrete counter tops, wood, thatch and stone. "It's not about looking at the building, it's about being inside the building and looking out," says Johan.

A few subtle details add to the sense of contrast between in and out. "We matched the leaves of one of the trees on site to the front door and the fireplace," he says.

And the stone on the outside is contrasted with pristine white walls on the inside. A cross section of the walls, as revealed in a number of places, is half stone and half  smooth white surface. "It's like a cross section through a fruit or vegetable - inside it's perfectly white, which has a very interesting effect," says Johan.

And the views are indeed spectacular. "Every room and bathroom has a view," says Kobie. "If you shower, you shower with a view. If you bath, you bath with a view. If you stand in the kitchen doing dishes or preparing food, everything is view-orientated. Whatever you do, there is a view."

But the architecture's relationship with nature goes beyond what you can see. Johan and Grete saw their brief as an opportunity to work "beyond the three dimensions".

They were inspired by the work of Spanish architect Alberto Campo Baeza.

"Baeza says we discern time by the passing of light," explains Johan. "And that you build a building with a combination of gravity and light. Gravity is the solid things - the tectonic stuff, the platform. Then you define the space with light." In the ancient Greek philosophy, the archetypes of the cave and the tree represent the two types of shelter: the solid and the light. "We find inspiration in that."

Simple farm fixtures such as the light fittings add to the relaxed feel of the interiors.
Simple farm fixtures such as the light fittings add to the relaxed feel of the interiors.
Image: Greg Cox/bureaux.co.za
Soft furnishings give each bedroom it's own distinct personality.
Soft furnishings give each bedroom it's own distinct personality.
Image: Greg Cox/bureaux.co.za
'If you shower, you shower with a view. If you bath, you bath with a view.'
'If you shower, you shower with a view. If you bath, you bath with a view.'
Image: Greg Cox/bureau.co.za
A boma is located on the landscape – on solid ground as opposed to stilts like the rest of the house.
A boma is located on the landscape – on solid ground as opposed to stilts like the rest of the house.
Image: Greg Cox/bureaux.co.za

The space inside each of the thatched volumes is evenly divided between a solid half and a light half. "The solid half is where all the services are," says Johan. So the kitchen and bar in the main pavilion and the bathrooms in the bedroom pavilions. The living areas are light and open, the shelter they provide "almost incidental".

"Johan studied the arc and the phases of the moon," says Kobie, "so when you sleep there, you see the moon coming up through the east gable. Then it disappears and when you wake up it appears again in the west through the gable." The same holds for the passage of the sun throughout the day as it animates the building and its surroundings.

This awareness of the subtleties of the passage of time built into the structure adds an almost intangible dimension to the ever-changing view, enriching the experience of it with a secret dimension beyond the visible.

Production: Sven Alberding & Gina Waldman.


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