PHOTOS DOOK PRODUCTION Annemarie Meintjies WORDS Ami Kapilevich
Karen Roos of Babylonstoren calls it her favourite house in South Africa. It is without a doubt one of the most remarkable houses in the world. Step into Blackwood Lodge, and down the rabbit hole we go.
Keith Rose is fixing his thatch. And while he is at it he is taking the opportunity to build a courtyard, remodel two rooms and extend the gym. And he has been at it, on and off, for the past 25 years. From the main living area – with its cavernous fireplace and Great Zimbabwe-style sandstone walls, each rough-hewn piece layered upon the next to create a swirling fingerprint of some recently remembered mountain god – Keith leads me onto a landing that opens onto a balcony. Succulents wink from a corner as I follow him across a gangplank to a parapet with a view over the Hout Bay valley that makes me grip the wooden railing hard.
Below us is an enormous L-shaped pool strung with a variety of obstacles and toys: a long slide, rope ladder, balancing beam, monkey bars, floating polo nets, wooden islands. There’s even a zip-line. For the next hour I stumble behind Keith as he winds his way through this labyrinthine Neverland. Down spiral staircases into secret rooms that open onto even deeper chambers where koi fish swim past you in their green waterwall worlds. Up and out and around a dizzying network of terraced galleries and verandas. Medieval bathrooms. Magical wine cellars. Mystical gardens of water and stone.
The furniture is in storage for the renovations, but each corner has a story, and each beam shares its own private joke. We unbolt countless wrought-iron gates forged by artist and blacksmith Luke Atkinson, and ornate doors designed by artist and blacksmith Conrad Hicks. The kids wanted some thing more modern, Keith tells me, so now he’s creating an industrial feel in two of the rooms, with hand polished steel beams and grated ceilings. Enormous metal sliding doors straight out of David Lynch’s Dune are stacked outside the gym.
“How many rooms do you have exactly?” I gasp as we exit the 400 m2 garage, which can accommodate 17 cars.
“I don’t know,“ Keith says, grinning. The house was a modest prefab cabin in a bluegum forest when Keith and his wife Marie-Louise moved to Hout Bay 25 years ago. Since then they have been perpetually adding, extending and creating it. It’s difficult to get a single answer regarding the duration of the building time, in total.
“Oh, six or seven years”, he says at first. Then later, “15”. But eventually it ceases to matter. I try to grill Keith on whether the constant change has been disruptive. Does the hobby verge on an obsession?
“What do you get out of it?” I ask.
“You mean apart from driving my family crazy?” He laughs. “No, look, I do enjoy building, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of the comfort of your family.”
The house is an impish living monument to its owner’s volcanic energy and creative drive. Keith Rose is the most successful ad director in the history of South Africa. But it is also an extension of the terrain. Keith points at the huge sandstone boulders in the courtyard that is under construction – those rocks were harvested from the hillside that needed to be levelled. “It’s a natural evolution,” he says.
“If this house were elsewhere, I’d have used a different structure and materials. The environment and lie of the land created this as much as I did. It’s a giant tree house, really.” The aesthetic reflects this organic unfolding. There are few straight lines. It’s all curves and spirals and arches. An eternally emerging superhuman habitat. It’s Gaudí meets Gormenghast.
“Do you think you’ll ever finish it?” I ask him on my way out.
“Ha-ha. Ja, no well, ah, um…” he trails off. I take it as a no.