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Restored modernist home in Durban shows the endurance of good ideas

Designed at a time when architecture was about defining a way of living, it's a reimagined paradise

restored modernist home in durban south africa
Lar Leslie/Frank Features

When architect Lisa Rorich and her partner Garth Robinson, a safari guide, bought their home four years ago, it was the realisation of a long-held dream, particularly for Lisa.

‘I’d put word out that we were looking to buy a mid-century modern house,’ she recalls. It didn’t take long for a friend to contact her about this place and, in a stroke of serendipity, Lisa realised that she knew the owners.

‘I’d attended a party here,’ she says. ‘I remember walking into the courtyard for the first time and being totally blown away. The entire structure is cantilevered from a single slab and staircase, a feat of engineering no less impressive now I’m its owner.’

living room in modernist home in south africa
Lar Leslie/Frank Features

The house was commissioned in 1960 by Shirley and Milek Masojada, who were friends of the architect, Hans Hallen, a leading proponent of a style influenced by Brazil’s flamboyant modernismo movement, popular during South Africa’s post-war development boom.

‘Hallen saw architecture as art and believed that, in order for buildings to have universal and timeless validity, their design should be informed by site and social context,’ explains Lisa. It was a respect for these values that led her to make as few changes as possible to her new home.

‘There’s something about the authenticity of materials that surpasses anything I’ve encountered’

‘There is something about the authenticity of the materials used, and the level of detail, that surpasses anything I’ve encountered,’ says Lisa. ‘Six decades of wear and tear called for a revamp of some of the interior spaces, but not much. And we’ve touched nothing externally besides the front aluminium windows, which were replicated exactly.’

greenery framed dining room in modernist home in durban
Lar Leslie/Frank Features

Wall-to-wall carpets on the upper level were replaced with large slabs of white terrazzo to match the original black floor tiles downstairs, and the house has been painted white inside and out, with just a few walls of accent colour.

‘I think the area that’s changed the most is the garden,’ says Lisa. ‘It’s Garth’s domain. He spends so much time in it, he’s earned himself the nickname “The Constant Gardener”.’ With its towering traveller’s palms and collection of orchids, it adds vibrancy to this home, but, for Lisa, the house’s most extraordinary feature is the way it’s transformed by the sun.

green and pink bedroom in restored modernist home in durban
Lar Leslie/Frank Features

‘There are different textures of glass on the windows that look onto the courtyard and an exact rhythm to the way the light falls here during the course of the day,’ she says. ‘It’s a quality I often find lacking in architecture today.’

It’s clear the couple feel a deep responsibility to honour the origins of their home. However, there is one place this didn’t extend to: the garage. ‘It seems in those days only sports cars were allowed, because our car wouldn’t fit,’ laughs Lisa. ‘It was either buy ourselves a sports car or redo the garage. Sadly, the latter won.’ lisaroricharchitects.co.za

This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration August 2020

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