ABOVE: The V-shaped butterfly roof provides a modern twist to this home that was converted from two barns. The dry-packed stone chimney enhances the farm-style look, while juxtaposing the clean, modern lines of the rest of the home’s exterior. An indigenous flat crown tree is wrapped to protect it from Bloemfontein’s winter chill.
Story of an Afro-chic farm
Informed by the climatic extremes of the Free State, this modern home blows hot and cold.
Writer tracy lynn chemaly Photographs angie làzaro
Bloemfontein can be a cold city. In fact, a drive through the streets of this Free State capital on early winter mornings could have one nearly expecting to see snow. White sleet covers almost-brown lawns and frost nets protect arum lilies and bougainvillaea fighting to make it through the cold months in their non-indigenous environment. Inside the homes, family members sip hot soup, huddled together on a couch in front of a whirring heater.
In the wide open spaces of the city’s surrounds, one would expect this type of scene to be evident in the extreme form, but there’s a home on a nearby plot, converted from two farm barns, that refuses to be a case in point. Built by local architect Jan Smit, the rectangular-shaped two-bedroom home displays the maximum north-facing façade possible, with floor-to-ceiling glass encouraging winter sunlight to penetrate the screed-floor interiors that retain this welcome heat. In summer, the sun’s change in angle means that the butterfly-roof overhangs form a sun barrier, keeping the house refreshingly cool in the sweltering months that have Free Staters splashing about in swimming pools.
ABOVE: The chandelier above the custom-made dining-room table was created out of handmade clay beads at Mud Studio in Ladybrand, in the eastern Free State. The coffee table was also custom-made from cedar wood. The painting above the fireplace is from Thailand.
The function of the home was defined by Jan’s use of the butterfly roof. The larger, front wing covers the living spaces, while the smaller wing of the butterfly informs the back of the home and its utility areas. The creative owners are themselves always up to trying something different, and both liked the idea of building a home that would be typical to South Africa.
ABOVE LEFT: The sliding doors of this old government filing cabinet were removed and the shelves were turned on their side to serve as a wine rack and ornament display cabinet. The silver pieces were inherited, while the framed embroidered houses were a gift. The antique horseback Chinese chairs have bronze inlays, and were sourced in Shanghai. MIDDLE: The entrance to this beautiful home. RIGHT: The main bedroom maintains the rustic appeal of this farm-like setting.
‘Although the roof is modern, it is still set in a barn-like context,’ says Jan, explaining the contemporary-shed look.
The sandstone and red brick are typical of the area. ‘We wanted to keep this vernacular idea, while pairing it with modern living. I wanted to build something that was part of the Free State, rather than something that would be universal.’ Jan insists on constructing houses that relate to their natural environment so that they become contextual and appropriate – belonging to the landscape and saying something about the environment. ‘We can’t have Tuscan villas everywhere,’ he says adamantly.
ABOVE: The owners sidestep their Italian greyhound and carry a table outside to enjoy a summer braai on their stoep, under the alien eucalyptus-branch cover. The fun collection of enamel plates hung on the back wall are a quirky addition to the natural outdoors. Architect Jan Smit enjoys the combination of steel and glass in design.
The home’s interiors are a combination of ideas and objects sourced from around the world. ‘There’s no specific style in the house,’ says one of the owners. ‘We travel quite a bit, so a lot of our décor was bought in China, Thailand or India, but a lot of it is also from local suppliers.’ The impressively large, custom-made wood-and-iron front door is one of these local designs. ‘I have a thing for a nice door,’ the owner says of the door that mimics a large barn-like entrance.
It’s not only the comfortable indoor living that’s an attraction. Opening their windows in the mornings, looking out onto an indigenous garden, and hearing birds instead of their neighbours’ music or cars in the street, keep these owners happily in tune with their climate-friendly environment on the plaas.
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