White House in South Africa by Christian Van Aswegen
In South Africa, a holiday retreat has been designed verging on almost monastic simplicity. Interacting with the landscape outside, like a neutral backdrop for an extraordinary collection of design inside
It all starts with a design collection — part of a very wide selection, which explores different themes of the history of design, to be precise — in search of its own space. The owner, a British businessman with South African origins, Julian Treger, an art expert with a marked interest in architecture, who, over time, has gathered up an impressive collection of designer furnishings. An investment, but more than just that: a passion that also allows him to give a different personality to each of his houses, scattered between London and South Africa.
In his holiday retreat, on top of a hill behind Plettenberg Bay, in the Western Cape province, modernism takes centre stage, contaminated by the rural culture of the city of Chandigarh, namely the furniture designed by Pierre Jeanneret (cousin of Le Corbusier, who worked on the urban design programme to create the Indian capital in the 1950s), alongside historical and current pieces and artwork representing the link between Africa and Europe. The spaces with their almost monastic simplicity, the perfect backdrop for so many exceptional pieces, were designed by architect Christiaan Van Aswegen, starting from an abandoned building: “It was a building with square lines, similar to the case study houses of the 1960s”, explains the owner, “in a derelict condition and covered in wild plants. Its position, however, made it the ideal core from which to start”.
Nestled in the fynbos, the shrub-like vegetation typical of the area, the house, with just one storey, enjoys a magnificent view out over the gorges and peaks of the Tsitsikamma mountains, which is only discovered by degrees: “We didn’t want to reveal the beauty of the landscape immediately”, explains the architect. “That’s why we came up with a progression of spaces designed to accommodate guests”. Coming from the road, you find yourself in front of a sweeping lawn of tall grass, surrounded by the white walls of the building, created by garden designer Franchesca Watson. The view compressed in this way is freed up as you move onto the deck in front of the house, and discover gaps and glimpses into infinity.
The building is characterised by continuous dialogue between clear, defined volumes and the rural setting, between style and functionality, guaranteed by eco-friendly solutions, such as solar panels and the water recovery system, which make the home self-sufficient while respecting the environment. In a sequence of solids and voids characterised by the spectacular open-air bathrooms and a swimming pool at the back extending into the landscape. An elegant building, and green, “with a special aura”, confirms the owner. “That makes you feel protected, totally relaxed”.