A creative couple invite TWoU into their new home
Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Photography: Karl Rogers
“Rules?" said Roark. "Here are my rules: what can be done with one substance must never be done with another. No two materials are alike. No two sites on earth are alike. No two buildings have the same purpose. The purpose, the site, the material determine the shape. Nothing can be reasonable or beautiful unless it's made by one central idea, and the idea sets every detail. A building is alive, like a man. Its integrity is to follow its own truth, its one single theme, and to serve its own single purpose. A man doesn't borrow pieces of his body. A building doesn't borrow hunks of its soul. Its maker gives it the soul and every wall, window and stairway to express it.” ― Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead.
Arriving at Clint and Robyn Campbell's Vredehoek home, one can't help but spend some time on the pavement appreciating this brutal homage to modern design. All that brick rising up from the ground, as if borne from conflicting tectonic plates, where hard lines meet gentle curves and the resulting structure stands proud as something demanding to be revered. Like a church, government building or some other sort of institutional edifice that helps form a community, this structure seems as if it could've been planted here forever-ago. However, the close proximity of the neighbours gives it away as having been built to fit an existing footprint, which is a shame, as this architectural delight should be viewed from all angles, at varying distances, to be completely and fully appreciated.
Apologies if I seem somewhat breathless, but having watched the building take shape since the owners broke ground in 2016 – with numerous drive-bys, rubbernecks, recces, ogles, leers and look arounds since then – stepping inside is an absolute treat. While the building's authoritative exterior might beg comparisons to, say, the Voortrekker Monument, the innards belie the façade and is as comfortable and relaxed as the people who live here.
True luxury isn't a Fabergé egg-timer or LV monogrammed bathmat. It's a steel-door built flush with the south-eastern side of the house and reveals a utilities shed. It's the way the basin in the guest bathroom trickles runoff into the mossy courtyard on the other side of the custom made windows. It's a bannister forged from a single piece of steel, zigzagging up the floating concrete stairs. It's solar panels on the roof, Jojo tanks underground, a well point collecting mountain runoff and plumbed into the mains. It's a rooftop garden that both beautifies and insulates, or an exposed flue from the fireplace in the lounge that heats the bedroom above it. Real grandeur isn't something as obvious as what a Russian or rapper would spend their new-money on. Which is why there's no 24-carat commode. Instead the ensuite is a double volume and light-filled room; a for-the-joy-of-it vestibule that could inspire faith in a heathen when doing something as perfunctory as your daily ablutions.
More than a mere arrangement of brick, concrete, glass, steel and wood – this home is an expression of craftsmanship. Both the man whose pencil formed it and the self-expression of the people who live here. Vulgar people sans soul will never making anything more than money, and so it makes sense that Robyn and Clint get to live in a house that not only reflects who they are, but who they aspire to be.
Humble to a fault, whenever the young couple is complimented on their home they're quick to divert praise to their architect, Michael Lumby. Perhaps it's the nature of their professional lives – him co-owner of Studio Muti, her the managing director of Hellocomputer – which makes for such cooperative clients? When you spend your workday explaining why the logo doesn't need to be bigger you're much more likely to allow an expert to apply their expertise.
"This definitely wasn't what we had in mind when we started," says Robyn, who'd originally considered a grand dame in the suburbs before stumbling across a fixer-upper in town that was within their price range. "This suited us better as we wanted to continue with our apartment lifestyle, just on a bigger scale, and this place ticked all the boxes. Somehow it then turned into what you see now."
The original 1940s house had so many additions and renovations that there was nothing left to preserve. When it was discovered that the retaining walls they'd kept wouldn't hold up, the entire house had to be demolished and new plans were drawn up as they started afresh from ground zero. Sharing Pinterest boards and a book on bricks that Clint picked up from the Milnerton Market, the couple embraced the architect's concept of contemporary conservation using sustainable construction and cost control. This mix of much more expensive custom fittings married with inexpensive and unapologetic materials culminated in a home that, unlike this sentence, is very unpretentious.
"A lot of decisions were made along the way," says Robyn. "Like, we weren't quite sure what we'd do with the floors and all the windows. The way they work with these ventilators was an experiment. Michael would design something, take it to the manufacturers, get them to build a prototype, install it, realise it's terrible and start again. So there was lots of workshopping and trying to get things right."
Despite their original builder going into liquidation, the unprecedented water restrictions and being forced to move into an incomplete house in January 2018 where they then lived with contractors until November... you couldn't wipe the smiles off of Clint and Robyn's faces with a shovel.
"We used to watch a lot of Grand Designs but haven't watched it much since," says Clint. "That optimism at the beginning of a project and then how it always takes longer and costs so much more is just too real."
Instead of ever being carried over the threshold, and having the threshold of her patience tested instead, Robyn says while she's disappointed that they never got to experience properly moving in, the small victories they're celebrating with the completion of every next stage has been that much more fulfilling.
"There's this delayed sense of gratification. We still have to fill the integrated planters that have been incorporated into the building, put in a pool and do some decking and a few other bits of joinery… Things are under control though, and we now get to enjoy all these small rewards along the way."
Despite it being a bit traumatic at times, Clint and Robyn would happily undertake a project of this magnitude again. Perhaps not in a hurry, but one day, somewhere in the future, don't-call-us-we'll-call-you, but yes, definitely.
And if you consider how impossible it would be to baby-proof this deathtrap, well, they have two choices: send baby Campbell off to baby boarding school until he can walk, or build another testament to modern design, perhaps this time in a feeder zone near the good schools, somewhere in the suburbs... I might just be getting ahead of myself though.