PHOTOS Rob Duker and Jan Ras WORDS Amelia Brown
The design of this award-winning one-of-a-kind contemporary beach house is an inspired response to its astonishing natural context and a celebration of local craft and design.
“Breaking up, folding down, blending in” is how architects Gardiol and Johan Bergenthuin of Bergenthuin Architects poetically recount their approach to integrating this Cape St Francis holiday home with the surrounding dunes. To maximise the views, minimise the impact and meet the client’s brief, a series of modular spaces were designed to address both the context and conditions of the exposed, ecologically sensitive coastal site. Openness and exposure are balanced by enclosure and protection.
The architectural team describes the home’s three main zoning areas as “vessels”, linked together with a transparent “B glass gallery. “The three vessels, enclosed courtyard and linking gallery all open up to celebrate the magnificent 180-degree view of the beach, fynbos-covered dunes, historical lighthouse and Indian Ocean,” Johan says.
The three zones work in two ways. First, it answered the client’s brief to have a two-person living unit within the larger house. The main block features the living areas and main bedroom; the guest block has three guest suites and a second living room; and the service block comprises the garages, cloakroom and staff accommodation.
Second, breaking up the property reduced the scale of the building so it doesn’t dominate its natural surroundings. “Folding down the charcoal roof sheeting further reduced the scale and tied the structure to the sensitive natural beauty of the fynbos around it,” explains Gardiol. “The choice of a darker charcoal exterior building colour enhanced this concept.”
The height and angles of the building also take the weather and prevailing winds into account, ensuring there is always a place to take shelter and still enjoy the view. You enter the house through a door designed by artist Paul Blomkamp, move through a small arrival courtyard and into a larger wind-protected one and the internal entrance – a glass gallery through which the guest is met with the full impact of the sea view. There is no formal arrival. Instead, you are guided through the house and, wherever you are, your eye is always drawn to the horizon, which is mirrored by the long outdoor pool.
Connection and separation are important elements of a beach house. Here, there’s an effortless flow between inside and outside and, whereas the bedrooms are all private and contained, there’s still easy access to the living spaces. Wood was used for flooring – making for a natural transition from the timber deck – and for ceiling cladding. “It captures a nautical warmth,” according to the architects, “and creates a surprising intimacy, whilst drawing your eye to the far side of the bay.” The soft tones meet the client’s brief to interior designer Marilyn McDowell for a tranquil interior that serves quiet escapes and festive family gatherings. The neutral backdrop also displays the owners’ artworks beautifully.
Like the architects, Marilyn was inspired by the property’s natural context – “being ‘in’ the sand dunes and fynbos and living within the ecosystem. I gathered a team of young artists, artisans, furniture designers and makers to collaborate and form visionary ideas of how it may be to live in such a beautiful and unique landscape”, she says. “Every step of the way, we held the sand dunes as our guide.”