Simplicity is really more complex a quality than the word lets on. And we don’t mean the kind of simplicity restricted by budget, nor the rustic or minimalist kind. As it turns out, holding back to achieve a quieter, more honest aesthetic requires real skill to master. It’s a case of style by understatement, since there’s elegance in design that’s discreet.
Simplicity, refinement and comfort were what the owners of this urban barn home in an Inanda estate were seeking. At their side from concept to completion was designer Julia Day of Generation and architect Joe van Rooyen of JVR Architects, comprising a formidable team. Since estate homes are typically in close quarters, this one’s objective was to cleverly conceal its borders, offering its owners privacy, solace and calm. To achieve this, an open and owing layout was conceptualised, consisting of intimate spaces that rank high on the comfort scale.
For Day, conceiving a home that was both luxurious and understated required thoughtful detailing, a palette of muted and natural finishes and a show-stopping selection of iconic furniture, chosen for its honesty, purity and exceptional handcrafted quality. ‘Interleading spaces that speak to the senses, as well as to the client’s lifestyle, is really what this interior’s all about,’ she explains.
For Van Rooyen, it was about creating a stripped-back, contemporary barn that hinges on openness and light. The layout is dominated by three parallel barns, each housing the living and sleeping zones, as well as two silos incorporating the home’s more functional uses: a lift well, cloakroom and sauna. Van Rooyen’s intentional separation of livable versus purely functional areas references the late American architect Louis Kahn’s notion of served and servant spaces, grouping these two spacial categories apart from each other and thereby bringing order to the layout.
Oak, steel and exposed concrete keep the aesthetic pared back, while generous proportions and a lack of decoration allow the house to breathe. No more successfully are these three materials combined than in Van Rooyen’s staircase, which features hefty cast-concrete and timber steps and fine, suspended steel balustrades.
From the breezy double-volume entrance, one’s eye journeys over a slate tiled floor and out to a pool of water. Overhead, an oak-clad bridge connects the barns beneath a raw off-shutter concrete ceiling. Around you, the room’s almost bare, save for a couple of staggering design pieces such as a Snoopy table lamp and Tavolo ’95 table, both by Achille Castiglioni, and a bevy of notable artworks that inhabit the gallery-like space.
There’s little distinction between indoors and out, with vast openings afforded by cavity and stacking doors, as well as distinctly un-outdoorsy furniture. ‘I’m very anti-patio furniture, so we opted for indoor pieces, carrying the carpets and tones through from the interior so that it feels like one space,’ explains Day regarding the seamless transition between lounge and terrace. That seamlessness, gained by way of continuity, creates a palpable sense of peace.
Then there are the details, without which such simplicity would fall at on its face. The floor, wall and ceiling junctions are indistinguishable, allowing the eye to travel through the home unhindered. Day has echoed the linear accent of Van Rooyen’s striking black steel handrails elsewhere, giving her understated scheme a counterpoint. The black line appears on the contours of Wiener GTV’s Hideout chair and the Rif Light rug in the dining room, as well as in bathroom fixtures and architectural elements.
The concept of the barn and agricultural practice in general is pervasive, bolstering a sense of homogeneity throughout the home. The Michele de Lucchi Donzelletta chairs in the cigar lounge are the designer’s ode to the plough, while the Vidun dining table by Vico Magistretti includes enormous, height-adjustable wooden screws, speaking to craft and its tools.
Resisting decoration for decoration’s sake, this is a home that gets to the heart of simplicity, proving that true luxury isn’t about ostentation – it holds back on excess, allowing the bones of a space to breathe, and nominates quality before quantity.
Text: Mila Crewe-Brown; Photographs: Elsa Young; Styling: Sanri Pienaar