Bureaux House Otten
Bureaux House Otten

Colour Box

The rich textures and bright colours of architect Kate Otten’s Johannesburg home mirror the garden, balancing a sense of energy and tranquillity. 

In the dining room, Kate moved the glass doors – “the very same doors” – out three meters and lifted up the roof “so we could get a bunch of north light in”. The stone wall in the foreground (running between dining room and kitchen) is original, but Kate added the one in the background at the end of the lounge. She extended the slate floors and reprised the knotty pine ceilings, which were part of the house’s distinctive palette of materials. Kate introduced raked plaster on other walls rather than painting them, which, she says, introduces a level of textural richness and energy that is at once stimulating and calming. The dining table was custom made for a birthday party using reclaimed wood from another project Kate worked on. The pendant lights are from Tom Dixon’s Beat series. The chairs are from Italian brand Billiani’s Doll range, designed by Emilio Nanni. The artworks include works by Clive van den Berg, Adriette Myburg, Josie Grindrod and Mariette Theron. A skylight at the back of the room lets dappled light filter through a lath ceiling (called “latte” in South Africa). The handwoven vetiver grass basket on the dining table is from Madagascar. Even the fruit bowl is a kaleidoscope of colours – exotic dragon fruit clashing artfully with plums and nectarines. The kitchen is one of the few rooms where a vibrant pop of paint has been chosen over the raw materiality of the finishes. Jade slate has been selected for the kitchen to add variety, and terrazzo countertops introduce another reference to the 60s origins of the home.

A new level and an upstairs room was added for Paris and Kate’s daughter, Paloma. The vibrant patterns of African wax prints feature in this bedroom as well, with a refreshing effect. “I think it’s about knowing when you can use those strong colours and patterns so that they don’t exhaust and overpower you,” observes Kate.

The main en-suite bathroom opens onto a courtyard at the back of the house, “so everything moves beyond the edges”, as Kate puts it. The wooden floors join seamlessly with the exterior tiling. Kate anticipated the trend for black sanitaryware by almost a decade in her choice of enamelling, which she combined with emerald green. “There’s something a little bit oriental about the black and green,” she observes, noting how well the green of foliage shows up against a black background. The terrazzo countertops reference the era, custom made using particularly large pebbles which create a luxurious, rich finish.

The stone wall in the lounge is a new addition, extending the use of materials preserved in the home’s original palette. A vibrant combination of colours is introduced in the kilim and cushions. The sliding doors move away into the garden itself, enclosing a section of the planting and inviting them to spill into the room. “The Crinum lilies and Brilliantasia are huge, and when you open the door, they sort of fall into the lounge, which is really nice,” says Kate. Here and throughout the house, the choreography of light has been carefully thought through. “For me, the way light falls is very important,” says Kate. The Twist chairs are from Koop Design, by architect Richard Stretton. The Lite-Wooden Bulb pendant lights are from Animal Farm by Porky Hefer.

The main bedroom and dressing room feature a palette of green and blue, particularly in the African wax prints, which is cooler than the pinks and reds that appear in the living areas. The bedroom walls slide away to open the bedroom to the garden and courtyard. The support columns are beyond the edge of the room, which helps blur the boundary between inside and out. “You slide the doors away, and where is the edge?” asks Kate. The boundary walls, stone and lush planting maintain the sense of containment and sanctuary. “It’s very lovely, that space,” says Kate. “When there’s good weather on a Sunday morning, for me it’s an absolute to open up and doors and have coffee in bed. I love it.” The lamps are by Jieldé.


Photography — Elsa Young