A 140sqm Tropical Family Home Filled With Art

This beautiful house effectively maximizes space, making it look bigger than it actually is

Original Article: Graham Wood/ Photography: Greg Cox/ Pictorial Direction: Sven Alberding/

Homeowner Piet Boer relates experiences with the “wildlife” surrounding his Forest Town home, which is right across Johannesburg Zoo. “On a Saturday morning early, when there is no traffic noise and you open up the sliding doors, the sound just flows in,” he says. “We hear lions and birds, and there are monkeys that make strange whistling sounds.”

Piet is an architect and is, in his own words, “obsessed with the memory of place,” and what connects a person to a place. It’s a strange coincidence that he’s ended up living in a home where an unlikely memory like that wafts across the garden as dawn breaks. But it was perhaps less of a coincidence that the fact that both Piet and Lucia grew up on farms initially attracted them to the house. “We wanted something small, and we definitely wanted a house that allowed us to live inside and outside at the same time,” says Piet. “The last thing I wanted was to be encased in a house. It needed to open up and allow us to live outside.”

The house is just 140-sqm, but seems much larger. Despite the apparent simplicity of its design—a simple L-shape—it cleverly integrates interior and exterior areas to appear much larger. Lucia and Piet did very little to alter the house; they simply cleaned up the original floors, replaced the ceilings and repainted. The most significant changes were the kitchen and the new sliding doors that let in more light. “The intimacy of this house is just amazing for us,” says Piet. “We use every single square meter, and you never feel claustrophobic because it is so open.”

Lucia and Piet have managed to infuse the space with their collection of contemporary South African art. “With art comes identity and what you relate to,” says Piet. The walls are filled with art, mostly concentrating on local artists ranging from the 1960s and 70s to the present. Lucia is also always on the lookout for fresh talent, and buys works from up-and-coming artists. “The other thing I really love about art, because you collect it over such a long period of time, is that you have the memory of certain periods of your life in certain works,” says Piet.


Changing and transforming pieces at home, he says, keeps memory fresh and infuses the present with a sense of the past. “It keeps it relevant,” says Piet. “It’s not a museum. They have to work for the way you live.” 


Homeowners Piet and Lucia Boer with their son Richard in the garden. The simple L-shape layout of the house envelops the garden, where two large willow trees provide shade. The bright red tables were originally from Piet’s family’s farm, painted red to match the molded chairs (get similar from Magis at Dimensione, Bonifacio High Street). The orange sculpture made from traffic cones and cable ties is by Gordon Froud.


The entrance to Piet and Lucia Boer’s Johannesburg home makes clever use of the layered transition from indoor and outdoor areas. The sandblasted finish on the walls is a reference to the century-old heritage houses in the area.

Dining Area

A pass-through hatch connects the kitchen and dining area. Lucia designed the dining room table with help from Piet, which she made according to a Gerrit Rietveld design. The abstract wooden sculpture suspended above the tables is an artwork titled “Cloud” by contemporary South African artist Stephan Erasmus. Get a similar piece from Debbie Palao at Holicow.

Living Area

The living area and the dining area are part of the same open-plan space, looking out over the garden through the large horizontal glass sliding doors (the only other substantial change the Boers introduced). The furnishings are a collection of inherited pieces, such as the wooden sofa from the farm Piet grew up in. Piet and Lucia have taken it with them and installed in every home they have lived in. The yellow-topped coffee table was originally Piet’s parents’ bridge table, repurposed. For a similar sectional sofa, go to Calligaris.


Piet and Lucia (in photo) say the kitchen is very much the heart of their home. Piet designed and built the kitchen himself. He also blocked up the existing kitchen door and extended the window. The “Swart Gevaar” print on the right is by Wopko Jensma, one of Lucia’s all-time favorite artists. The other artwork is by an unknown US artist.

Master Bedroom

In the master bedroom, a quiet palette of beige and gray makes the room serene. The tall “Praying Woman” sculpture right by the window is by by Zoe Frank. Get a similar striped rug locally from Crate and Barrel.

A narrow ledge above the bed makes the sleeping space even more cozy and serves as additional display for assorted pieces.

Children's Bedroom

Their son Richard’s room is painted with mural reflecting his interest in outer space. The black wooden side table is from Goet and the cushion is from local fabric designer Skinny-Laminx. For a similar mural, Halcyon House can customize one.


The window of the bathroom has Piet and Lucia’s favorite quotes about art and design. To DIY the skull artwork on the wall, frame a page of the Day of the Dead Sugar Skulls coloring book, available at Fully Booked, SM Mega Fashion Hall.

Read the original article ("House of Memories") in the July 2016 issue of Real Living Magazine. Download your digital copy of Real Living on the Real Living App. Log on to for more details. 

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