Although the words ‘stylish’, ‘elegant’ and ‘tasteful’ are rarely used in conjunction with the term ‘eco-friendly’, with their green home, celebrities Michelle and Riaan Garforth-Venter have adequately proved that this can be the case.
From the exterior, the house displays the rugged, earthy look you’d expect from a home considered to be green, but the architecturally skilful way in which raw brick, plaster, wood, stone and glass have been combined belies its eco-wise credentials.
Those familiar with their TV show, Love & Mortar (on DStv’s Home Channel), would have watched as the home, which the couple term ‘bio-climatic’, developed. The result, however, far exceeds Michelle and Riaan’s expectations.
Building an eco-home is complicated. Everything has to be taken into consideration, from the positioning of the home and the materials used to clever architecture to ensure light, heat and natural resources are used to their best advantage.
With this in mind, Anthony Papageorgiou Architects was selected to design the home. As a member of the Green Building Council SA, the company has long been involved with green building processes. They have ensured that most of the building materials used in the home are either recycled or reclaimed. Most of the walls are treated concrete and face brick, and VOC-free paint has been used throughout.
One of the first priorities in the design of the home was climate control, and to this end, rooms needing lots of sunlight are positioned on the outside of the home, while those needing less natural light, such as bathrooms, are positioned on the interior.
To ensure adequate insulation, not just the ceiling, but also the floors and walls were insulated, with polystyrene built into cavities (this isn’t totally eco-friendly, but the long-term benefits and energy savings can balance this out). Ensuring further insulation, the timber-framed windows are all double-glazed.
The home is off the grid, the couple electing instead to install solar thermal panels, which absorb heat, and photovoltaic-cell panels, which convert sunlight to electricity. Flat roof space was specially allocated to the house and garage, under which veld grass has been planted, to ensure the panels work as efficiently as possible (on a hot surface, they are less effective).
Water usage, of course, was another huge consideration. The home has rainwater catchment systems as well as grey-water recycling apparatus, which ensures that water coming off showers and washbasins goes through a Biolytix system, which uses composting worms to recycle impurities in the water.
A walk through the home gives a sense of calm. It’s fairly minimalist and modern, but with warm African touches. Most of the lower level is open plan, with raw cement floors linking the rooms to create an effortless flow. The high ceilings of the dining room, which is walled in raw face brick, give a feeling of spaciousness, with floor-to-ceiling windows along one side. In the centre is a massive 14-seat dining room table, with space for two at each end.
Caroline De Freitas of Sublime Interiors was responsible for the interior design. She had worked with Riaan in the past on his TV show, so he was familiar with her style and knew it would work in the home. ‘I’ve always been aware of the importance of using sustainable materials, and with this house I wanted to be as green as possible,’ she says.
Although the overriding décor theme is French Provençal, Caroline explains she has taken this style and given it her own interpretation: ‘I haven’t exactly gone by the French Provençal book, but decided instead to go beyond those boundaries and make it more exciting and interesting, to show that thought has gone into it.’ She has achieved this by including clean, modern lines and a distinctly African feel. ‘I wanted it to be eclectic. Because of the natural surroundings, it just made sense to bring in an earthy, natural feel.’
Above the dining room table are two previously fitted chandeliers with tiny lampshades decorated with white and black flowers, which Caroline took as the cue for her colour palette. ‘Riaan and Michelle were not prescriptive in what colours I was to use, so I took these to set the tone. To this neutral and black palate, I progressed to include shades of gold and whites.’
When it comes to the furniture used in the home, she was determined to keep the style clean, slick and modern, but still comfortable. ‘The dining room chairs are so comfortable that apparently they had a big dinner party the other night and no one wanted to leave the table.’
There is also a playful element to be found throughout the home. The kitchen bar stools, for example, are covered in faux silver snakeskin, and there’s some definite bling in the mirrored side tables in the bedroom. ‘Michelle loves crystal and shiny things, so this was right up her street,’ says Caroline.
Bamboo was used for the kitchen cupboards, as it’s sustainable and doesn’t emit chemical odours. Carefully whitewashed, they tie in with the modern feel of the rest of the home. All the kitchen appliances have an energy rating of ‘A’ or ‘A-plus’ – the most energy efficient on the market.
In the master bedroom, Caroline was once again inspired by the existing light fittings. ‘I wanted to create a really opulent feeling here,’ she says. She’s used leather on the headboard and brought in touches of blue in the cushions and throws on the bed. In an alcove to one side of the room is a larger-than-life painting of a leopard’s eye. Like the rest of the artwork, it brings a touch of African wilderness to the urban home, yet skirts the borders of cliché.
The main bathroom is en suite and features an egg-shaped bath and shower complete with energy-saving shower-head. All the toilets in the house are dual flush, allowing one some control over the amount of water used when flushing.
To save money and time – and to be more eco-friendly – Caroline’s used pre-lined fabric and a single track for most rooms in the home, though some rooms sport a double track for a layered effect. The ground-floor curtains are mostly a tobacco-linen-type fabric with a distinct texture and almost black hue to it. Upstairs, she has focused on grey. ‘I think grey is the new neutral,’ she says. ‘I didn’t want to go too over the top with the fabric, so this was perfect.’
Caroline says it was difficult to find eco-friendly décor items. ‘They are available, but we just do not have the wide variety available in Europe,’ she says – a feeling echoed by furniture designer Will van der Watt of ID8 Interiors, the interior design branch of CM Architects.
Will was responsible for much of the furniture design in the home. He says, ‘It was quite a challenge because most of the contemporary materials used in furniture are made of vinyl and plastics, so they aren’t exactly green. The best material would probably have been bamboo, but this is in short supply in this country.’ Instead, he has cleverly opted for meranti, a widely available fast-growing local hardwood that can be stained to any colour (using water-based stains, naturally).
Will has custom designed each furniture piece for its space, creating amazing oversized couches and using colour schemes that perfectly complement the rest of the home. For the bases of most pieces he’s used stainless steel, which is recyclable and readily available.
Other eco-friendly furniture items are the side tables in the living room, which High Thorn has created from bleached whitewashed wood.
Caroline’s favourite piece of furniture is the oversized couch in the living area. ‘I used three different fabrics to continue the French Provençal vibe, and I used soft suede on the seats for extra comfort,’ she explains.
Caroline believes the home will adapt and grow with its owners, and that its eclectic nature is what makes it so perfect for them. ‘The design is not so prescriptive as to prevent them from personalising it as time goes by. If they bring back keepsakes from their overseas travels, for example, they will be able to display them with comfort in the home.’ There is no doubt that this home will stand as a testament to the future of green South African homes, which is exactly what Riaan and Michelle intended.
Source: The property magazine