The Conservatory Modern Home

A South African Architect Designs an Off-Grid, Modern Home For Her Parents

‘Requested to build “nothing that looks like a house,” an architect creates a barn-inspired retreat with its own conservatory to help regulate interior climate throughout the year.’ Dwell, Michele Koh Morollo.

The Brief:

The principal requirement of the project consisted of creating a retreat for its occupants from a hectic urban lifestyle. The client obtained an underutilised 35 hectare farm outside of Pretoria with magnificent views. The house had to have a strong relationship with its immediate landscape and living spaces had to embrace the surroundings, breaking away from conventional space allocation.

Since the main portion of the house would be inhabited by only two permanent users, they requested spacious volumes and dwelling spaces to be located on a single storey. Guest suites would be separate and not integrated into the circulation of the main house.

Sloped natural grasslands and majestic views informed the design of a dwelling partially submerged in the hill. Veld grasses are allowed to flow continuously onto a portion of the roof and vegetation permeates the interior through a conservatory placed at the core of the building. Habitable spaces are oriented around the conservatory to make optimal use of surrounding views.

At the heart of the building, the conservatory is intentionally designed to be context specific with solid and translucent roof sheeting and sufficient insulation to optimise passive climate control. In winter the conservatory is configured to allow solar penetration while keeping cold air out. This passive heat is released into the adjoining living spaces by opening the desired partitions. In warm summer months an automated glass façade opens up the conservatory to creating an outside patio which allows natural cross ventilation to flow constantly though the house.

Energy and water requirements are met completely “off-grid”. Materials chosen for durability and low maintenance include cement washed bricks, exposed steel and concrete soffits. The industrial use of building materials continues to the interior closets, cupboards and kitchen.

Upon entry of the conservatory a glass floor allows a glimpse into the wine cellar below, accessible only via a seamlessly integrated trap door. The main bedroom is located on the challenging western side of the house to enjoy bird watching into the tree canopy and brilliant sunset views. The large overhanging patio and timber shutters assist in eliminating unwanted afternoon sun. The remainder of spaces remain oriented north with optimal overhangs to ensure climate comfort throughout seasons. Seldom used guest suites are separately treated on the lower ground area with a private entrance and outdoor space.


Architect: Nadine Engelbrecht

Website: nadineengelbrecht.co.za

Email: studio@nadineengelbrecht.co.za

Photographer: Marsel Roothman http://www.marselroothman.com/blog/


Timber chandelier in the conservatory – David Krynauw

Timber table in conservatory and wine cellar – Built by client

Timber bench in lounge – Laurie Wiid van Heerden

Felt chairs in lounge – Ronel Jordaan

Lounge lamp – Aim pendant lights, designed by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec for Flos

Lounge painting – Marie Vermeulen Breedt

Main bedroom wall mounted lamp – Model 265 by Paolo Rizzatto for Flos

Steel kitchen table and counter – Custom made, design by Nadine Engelbrecht, manufactured by Tsipe Engineering

Timber cabinet in kitchen – Weylandts


Webber Floors – cement screed

Forest Flooring – white oak timber floors

Yebo Windows & Doors – steel door and window frames

Bronk Joineries – white oak custom designed timer interior doors

Coroma – custom designed automatic steel and glass door (to open up side of conservatory)

Status stones –  “Cement Sand” bathroom vanities

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