At home with Anthony Orelowitz


When Johannesburg-based architect and founding director of Paragon Group, Anthony Orelowitz, embarked on the adventure to design his own home, he knew it was going to be a project in reinventing what it means to create a haven in the city. The time had come for him to be his own client and incorporate more than two decades of architectural experience into fostering his family’s well-being. What started as a self-designed residential space became a beating heart and comforting hearth; the suburban sanctuary of the Orelowitz house.

‘In Johannesburg, there is no mountain,’ says Anthony. ‘There’s no sea… Here, you have to create your own habitat.’ That was the basis of his approach to Johannesburg’s character when he decided to design his home in the city’s famously forested suburbs. Anthony is primarily a commercial architect; his firm, Paragon Group, is responsible for some of the city’s most significant architectural landmarks. This would be his first residential design in 15 years. Nevertheless, working closely with architect Elliot Marsden and interior designer Julia Day, he conjured a vision that at once perfectly suited the city and presented itself utterly unlike its neighbours.

Anthony’s oasis

The plot of land Anthony was to build his home on had previously been a tennis court. An unusual setting, the property is accessed via a long driveway at the end of a ‘panhandle’, surrounded by neighbours on all sides. The real luck lay in the fact that this spot was a sort of self-contained island with a huge jungle of trees. Accordingly, to create his personal habitat, Anthony turned to the archetype of the atrium house: an internal courtyard wrapped by the house around all sides, creating a peaceful sanctuary at its heart, stretching itself open to the sky. For Anthony, it is a ‘self-contained oasis in the city’ where he gets to live life like in paradise.

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Grounded living

Rather than simply surround the central courtyard, however, Anthony describes the way in which he pushed the landscape through the pavilions and out to the very edges of the site. ‘The ground plane washes through the house completely from one end to the other,’ he says. This creates a type of secondary courtyard, offering private, peaceful nooks under the trees.

Despite its sophistication, Anthony injected into the house a flair for playfulness, found in the way the house rises to create an upper level in the treetops, carefully designed around branches that lean into and over the house. It is the adult treehouse we all want, and which he couldn’t resist. The effect is a sense of space knitted together vertically in much the same way as it is horizontally, drawing you up to the terraces as much as to the house and gardens on ground level. Anthony designed the structure ‘upside down’, with the bedrooms on the ground level, nestled under the trees, and the living and outdoor entertainment areas on the upper level. The goal was to be able to wake in the morning and have the ground beneath him, to be surrounded by the forest he curated.

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Theatrical reconfiguration

Another key goal for this cherished space was to generate sensory feedback when touching surfaces throughout the house, from the walls to the floors, a quality Anthony finds rejuvenating. The rough sensuality of the stone, the lushness of the plants, and the elemental presence of the air and water lean away from the minimalism of European Modernism, going instead in the direction of the abundant, sensual tropical Modernism with its early origins in Brazil.

The care taken with the detailing means that the transitions between inside and out become seamless, natural. Slatted timber cladding wraps the walls and ceilings, with door and window frames so precisely integrated so as to make the thresholds imperceptible. The lighting is concealed and designed so that in the evening the quality of light both inside and outside is consistent. The effect is slightly magical, conjuring an image of the mystical Hogwarts with its secret passages and trick stairs. ‘You’ve got hidden passages and concealed spaces behind spaces,’ he reveals of the intricate composition. The ways in which the walls and screens can be opened or closed in Anthony’s house mean that it can be quite magically reconfigured, forever shifting and changing shape in a marvelously theatrical way, all while maintaining cohesion with the natural flow of the surroundings.

Anthony’s personal project shows that as a designer your favourite space in any city can be your own home, and this is undoubtedly your invitation to do so.

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