The Conversation Pit Makes a Comeback at This Family’s South Africa Home

Its outdoor gathering space squares with other modernist touches, like a flat roof, exciting brickwork, and large-format windows framed in steel.

The Acacia tree in the home's central courtyard was one of the things that first attracted the homeowners to the property. Both the husband and wife are from Johannesburg, and the latter notes that this tree is the quintessential African tree. "I wanted to see it every day when I woke up," she said. "I wanted the house to wrap around it."

Deciding where to build a house tends to be a one-two punch. Prospective owners not only have to love the land they buy, but they also need the foresight—or that of an architect—to imagine their future home on it. The But looking at properties can become tiring fast, and when decision fatigue sets in, everything starts to blend together.

For the lucky ones, there’s a moment in the search, however exhaustive, when things just click. South African couple Graeme and Toni stuck with it for five years until they connected with a lot in the suburbs of Johannesburg.

Due to the property's grade, the living wing—with the kitchen, living, and dining room—sits about four feet higher than the private wing, which holds the bedrooms. A glassed-in breezeway connects the two zones.

Toni and Graeme’s family home in South Africa is built on a grade, with one wing sitting about for feet higher than the other. The volumes are connected by a stepped breezeway enclosed with glass sliders.

Photo by Warren Heath

"We played with the brick in some interesting ways," says Katz about the home's exterior walls, which give privacy from neighbors.

“We played with brick in some interesting ways,” says architect Gregory Katz. Placing some of them at an angle draws air across the conversation pit on the other side of this wall.

Photo by Warren Heath

“When we came across this property, there was a beautiful old acacia tree on it, and that’s what first attracted me to the land,” says Toni, a design-loving stay-at-home mom of two boys, Jesse, 14, and Jamie, 11. “It’s the quintessential African tree—a symbol of the continent. I wanted to see that tree every day when I woke up. I wanted the house to wrap around it.”

Because the lot was created from a subdivision, it had a swimming pool that had belonged to another nearby home, which needed replacing. It was otherwise open, and Toni and Graeme envisioned constructing a family home by sourcing as many materials and products locally as possible. “We’re proud South Africans,” says Toni.

The roof garden adds another area for gathering to the home, allowing the residents to enjoy views of Johannesburg while appreciating the nature around them. One of the clients, Toni, sits on the roof every afternoon with a cup of tea.

The roof garden, accessed by a concrete stair, adds an outdoor area with views of Johannesburg.

Photo by Warren Heath

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