When architect Nadine Engelbrecht built a home for her parents on a farm outside Pretoria in South Africa, not only did she bring the outside in with a double-volume conservatory at its centre, but she also took the house off the grid.
The very core of the house is a kind of conservatory space – an open double-volume barn-like interior with its steel frame exposed. It is a dramatic reinterpretation of the front patio or stoep common in South African homes, but rather than being pinned to the front of the house, it becomes the centre. Glass facades at either end let in the views, while the volume of the space creates the sense that it is almost an outside area. On the northern façade, and automated opener lifts away an entire glass wall so the outside flows in. This is also a useful passive cooling device. Along with Nadine’s mother’s plants, the furnishings include a Haywire chandelier by David Krynauw, classroom chairs from an antique shop, a dining table designed by Nadine and built by her father, Andre Freyer. The workbench was salvaged from the original farmhouse, elsewhere on the property. Just past the entrance, a glass floor allows views of a subterranean wine cellar. The sheet-metal roofing is insulated to help control the temperature, while interspersed polycarbonate sheets allow natural light to filter into the room from above.
In a sheltered nook between the kitchen and conservatory, an outside seating area is open to the sky. The steel outdoor chairs are from SHF.
In the central conservatory area, the workbench was salvaged from the original farmhouse, elsewhere on the property. It is topped with orchids, aerophytes, decorative driftwood and vintage green glass demijohn and buoys. Further along, another counter is topped with more plants, including staghorn ferns and cymbidiums. The floral wallpaper in the guest bathroom at the entrance is a playful refence to the botanical theme. Nadine had extra-long doors fabricated to complement the proportions of the double volume space. The simple cement-washed bricks were deliberately left exposed to express their materiality honestly.
The central conservatory opens onto a kitchen and informal lounge/TV room. Nadine designed the metal kitchen island and cabinets in keeping with the industrial aesthetic and materiality of the architecture. They were manufactured by Tsipe Engineering. Her father, Andre Freyer, a keen amateur carpenter, provided the timber cabinet interiors. Throughout the house, oak doors, cabinets and floors introduce warmth and texture. The concrete ceiling has been left exposed, honestly expressing its materiality. The bar stools are Dark Horse.
The bedroom is west-facing and opens onto a balcony overlooking a nearby grove of trees, so a folding timber screen helps control the harsh afternoon sun. The area surrounding the bed is given warmth and definition by an oak floor set in the surrounding screed. The Model 265 wall-mounted bedside lamp is by Paolo Rizzatto for Flos. The pebble-shaped cushions are by Ronel Jordaan.
Opposite the kitchen, on the other side of the conservatory, is the lounge and two glassed-off workspaces, one each for Andre and Charmaine, who both work part-time from home. Like the TV area, the lounge is given definition by an oak floor set in the surrounding screed. The bench and African cork stools are by Laurie Wiid. The felt chair is by Ronel Jordaan. The pendant lights were designed by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec for Flos, and the painting is by Marié Vermeulen-Breedt. The side table is by Gregor Jenkin.
The north facing glass façade of the central conservatory is automated, and can be opened completely to create a seamless transition from interior to exterior. A deeper overhang here helps control the sun, keeping direct sun out in summer while allowing the lower winter sun in to warm the simple screed floors and passively release embodied heat in the evenings, warming he adjacent kitchen and lounge. The furnishings include a Haywire chandelier by David Krynauw, classroom chairs from an antique shop, a dining table designed by Nadine and built by her father, Andre Freyer. The soft felt chair is by Ronel Jordaan. While wild veld grass surrounds the house, an apron of lawn has been created for visiting grandchildren to play on. A grassy staircase has been carved into the incline, in which parts of the house are submersed.