When they were hunting for a new family home in Cape Town, Kate and Michael Lorentz were dragged reluctantly to view a house in Newlands. From looking at the brochure, Kate felt it was absolutely not right for them. Despite the property including one of the oldest buildings in the area – a historic labourer’s cottage that dates from the early 19th century – the main home itself was way too small for their family, with a university-student daughter and three boisterous young boys. In addition, the style of the existing home didn’t tick a single of the Lorentz’s boxes. But as soon as they saw the property, they were smitten. ‘I think it was the tranquillity of the river that runs through the garden, from Table Mountain into the Liesbeeck River, that sealed the deal for us. The trees that line the banks are so cool and serene, and the river itself was irresistible for our three boys – a timeless playground,’ says Kate.
The Lorentz’s are uncompromising in their commitment to artistic integrity and heritage. Michael, who runs a bespoke safari company called Passage to Africa, and Kate, a botanist who has put her PhD in biological science temporarily on ice while their sons are still young, have sourced a powerful collection of contemporary African art and artefacts from all over the continent. In search of an architectural solution for their new home, they engaged architect Karen Newman to transform their dated new acquisition into a family home with heart. It was a match made in heaven.
Karen didn’t just focus on the heritage requirements of the Newlands suburb – with its narrow, leafy little lanes, cobbled side streets and country-village scale – she also understood exactly what her clients wanted. ‘I love architecture with history, but there’s a part of me that is also interested in creating new buildings,’ she explains. ‘This was the perfect project; it combined caring for a very old and beautiful cottage with reinventing a block-like, double-storey house built in the 1970s/1980s. The house was positioned in the right place with a wonderful river aspect, but it was very tired and dark with no north-facing rooms, and the footprint was too small for the family.
We decided to lift the roof, go up to three storeys and treat the family home like a contemporary townhouse.’ As for the cottage, they all agreed that this charming historic building should be celebrated. ‘The cottage had been hidden from street view behind a huge garage, so Kate and Michael agreed to sacrifice the garage for history, and so we demolished it.’ They decided to honour the building, with its wonderfully wonky walls and low, skewed doors, by keeping it as a guest cottage separate from the house. And so the rural cottage sits in perfect harmony with the beautiful townhouse alongside it.
With the decision made to transform the family home into a very contemporary space, they focused on compactness. The resulting concept was to devote the bottom block to communal living, the middle block to children, and the top block to the adults. However, the engineers could not track down the property’s original structural drawings, so the top floor had to be very lightweight. Karen designed a steel-framed structure with lots of windows that synced brilliantly with the couple’s insistence on a light and airy space. From a solid, grounded foundation, the home gradually rises from its brick-and-mortar base with low ceilings to a lofty modernist glass-and-steel space with treehouse aspirations.
Inside, the rooms have been opened up to take in both mountain and river views and to let in the light and sunshine. The open-plan entrance-dining-kitchen area is where most of the family action happens. It’s very streamlined, with contemporary spaces that double as a stripped-back, almost industrial design statement and a down-to-earth, child-friendly home in which the family’s younger members – twin tween boys and their little brother – are boisterously at home. The long refectory-style dining table sees masses of use, whether it is for family meals, homework or simply a place to sit and chat over a cup of coffee. The interior marries beautifully with the home’s contemporary modernist lines, with the almost austere spaces and moody, semi-industrial ambience providing the perfect backdrop for Michael and Kate’s rich collection of lively art, beautifully handcrafted artefacts and African furniture that adds spirit and life to the home.
The sitting room – a breath-taking space that almost overhangs the river – is a striking feature. The original fireplace partially obscured the river view so they moved it, opening up the space with a glass wall that overlooks the forested riverbank. One half of the sitting room is taken up by a bar area that channels the mood of a sophisticated city club. Karen explains that adding a bar is a signature touch of her architecture practice: ‘A bar is a very compact, urban way to entertain. Everyone gravitates to the bar – it is less formal than sitting down in a lounge, yet it is not the kitchen. It is that much more convivial: you’re perching at a height where you’re almost standing, almost sitting, so you’re not as committed and conversation flows more freely.’
Certainly, in this beautifully curated, carefully considered, modern and utterly liveable home – brought to life with delightful finds and objets d’art from Michael and Kate’s African travels – both conversation and family fun flow easily.
The owner Kate and Michael Lorentz, who run a bespoke safari company, have an extensive art and artefact collection and live in Newlands, a quiet district of Cape Town, with their four children.
The home The couple employed architect Karen Newman, of Newman Architecture & Design, to reimagine the house in a contemporary way while staying true to its history and the heritage of Newlands, creating a three-storey home that rises from a solid foundation to a lofty space.
Get the look:
Styling by Sven Alberding
Photography Warren Heath/Bureaux