8 Smart Lessons from the Experienced Architect

If you are not interested in medicine, psychophysiological insomnia cure, marketing or cooking then maybe design, decor or architecture is your cup of tea. Check out the story of a 780km hike inspired two young architects to start their own firm – and to build their dream home.


Johannesburg architects Piet du Preez and Werner Nothnagel decided to tackle the famous El Camino de Santiago Trail from France to Spain in 2009. This 780km hike through gorgeous countryside allowed them plenty of time to assess and reinvigorate their architectural principles, and upon their return, they decided to start their own firm, NuP Design and Build – and build their own home.


A 226m2 house on a plot of 417m2 situated on an estate.


Situated in Honeydew Manor, a new extension of Johannesburg West en route to Krugersdorp – the area is defined by the Roodepoort koppies.


Construction began in June 2010 to avoid the summer rain and was completed within five months.

Find inspiration

Inspiration comes from well-designed elements in harmony with their environment. Gather ideas through traveling and exploring foreign countries,  and experiencing how other people live. Also take notice of simple things, like how a flower opens up and a building casts a shadow. A window can be the starting point of a home’s design, just like a tree can determine where the entrance of an office block will be positioned.

The design on principle

Identify the strengths and weaknesses of the site, such as limited space or potential for a great view. Also, take note of wind direction and where the sun rises. Because this particular plot is so small and situated right at the entrance of the estate, Piet and  Werner’s home is built against the boundary walls. A large part of the plot remains open,  which limits the noise levels and allowed them to create a private courtyard, thus adding to a spacious feel.

A fresh lick of paint can turn a collector’s piece into a striking focal point.

Follow the flow

The secret of good design lies in the synergy between rooms. In this house, it ’s easy to navigate from one space to another and the interior living rooms are all connected to the garden. It’s important to establish which areas in your home need to be connected, such as the kitchen and dining room, which spaces need to be separated, and which spaces should flow to the exterior. The easy flow in  Piet and Werner’s house creates interesting nooks that would otherwise not have been utilized. It’s also important to create different entertainment areas: the dining room provides an intimate space, the undercover patio is ideal for a large number of guests and the platform above the garage offers a lovely view of the koppies.

Pay attention to details

The simplest details are usually the most striking. The stairs, wood screen, gutters, windows and kitchen all demanded careful planning and execution. Lighting is also extremely important as it completes the design of a room and breathes new life into space by night. Here, the outside lights were installed for both security purposes and aesthetics, while interior lights highlight design aspects such as the stairs to the first floor.

Select lights that have a visual impact, such as this crocheted pendant light from Nollies Lights – the pattern shimmers like stained glass at night and it’s so striking that the neighbors have even come knocking to find out where it was made!

Make materials matter

The building materials you choose will have a major impact on a project and should, therefore, be in harmony with each other and the overall design. Early on, Piet and Werner decided that all materials would be natural and warm, so they consistently made use of wood, steel, slate, and gravel. The walls are painted in bold colors with single focal walls in darker shades, while the doors and windows, a combination of wood and steel, match the steel and timber screen on the balcony.

Modern furniture with clean lines works well with older pieces featuring curves and patterns.

Open plan living

It’s easy to see why an open plan design is so popular. Here, the entire ground floor is a single open space with each functional area clearly defined. There’s a balance between glass and wall to make certain areas more private, while other spaces are integrated with the garden. The courtyard forms the focal point of the house, creating an ideal flow between inside and out. The house is divided into distinct working areas:

• The public area comprises the garden and an inviting pool serves as a focal socializing point.

• The semi-public area is the open plan ground floor where family and friends gather to eat, chat and relax.

• The private area comprises the first floor where the bedrooms are situated.

Work small spaces

Utilize the space, indoors and outside, effectively – every square meter should be functional and have integrity. For example, create a library or study in a small corner and develop focal points with a beautiful cupboard or ornaments to make the space interesting and fun. You can also give a small space a new lease on life with both natural and artificial lighting – and don’t be afraid to use bright or dark colors. Another good tip is to play with volume: the bedrooms in Piet and Werner’s home boast an impressive volume of more than 3400mm and so appear and feel larger. IsoPine insulation serves as a ceiling,  with exposed wooden beams adding character to space.

The stylish master bedroom links seamlessly with the bathroom and cleverly partitioned toilet.

The kitchen is bright and practical with open meranti shelves and worktops of concrete and wood.

Embrace the outdoors

The 8 x 14m front garden comprises a variety of soft-leaf and hard-leaf plants as well as low-maintenance greenery such as succulents and aloes. These have been planted against the boundaries of the plot to create space for a patch of grass and allow an indigenous jacket plum  (Pappea capensis) to form a focal point – not only does it attracts birds, but it also bears the perfect jam-making fruit. The plants were selected to ensure flowers throughout the garden, which is laid out in circles in contrast to the linearity of the house.

Sheltered from the wind, the private patio and braai area forms part of the courtyard.