Located in a leafy Johannesburg suburb, House Fern is a 2000sq.m subdivision that Nico van der Meulen designed for both his family and business. He began designing it in 1986 and completed it in 1987- more than 25 years later; the home remains one of the most popular contemporary houses from the architectural firm.
Ecological intelligence was applied for every aspect of House Fern: it faces 15 degrees east of the north for sun control, and has 660mm thick facing walls to store heat. Clay tiles were used over the concrete roofs to not only insulate it, but to also protect the waterproofing against the sun, whilst the floors are insulated from the soil.
During winter, the habitable rooms in the house receive north sunlight through the sliding and pivot glass doors. In summer, the house is kept cool through the natural ventilation given off by the koi ponds, swimming pool, and the cool soil of the plants
The house consists of five atria; an existing deciduous tree was retained in one of the atria to act as an umbrella over the house, whilst a black bamboo screens two of the other atria. Acting as cooling agents in the summer time are the large water feature found in the living area, and the groundcovers of the indigenous palm tree
The open plan living area leads out onto the lanai and pool area, and consists of a double volume family room. The breakfast room, situated between the kitchen, family room, dining room and lanai, is the central point of the living area. The kitchen has a large east facing window that is protected from the sun by a deciduous tree.
Situated on the north and east side of the house is the main suite, whilst the children’s bedrooms are on the west wing. All four bedrooms are en-suite, with the main suite in particular consisting of a his and her dressing room, and an airy bathroom that overlooks the garden and invites sunlight.
Two private studios were built on the second floor; and were fitted with a kitchenette and a lounge area overlooking the gardens. There is also an al fresco dining area next to the studio, and a fire-pit on the balcony next to the study.
The studio area downstairs has its own side entrance, so that the house and clients can access it without going into the private residence.
The crucial element of function was not lost in the form of House Fern; the result was an ecological design that eliminates the need for air-conditioners and heaters, saving a significant amount of energy.