The Area – Constantia
Having lived and worked in central London for years we loved the idea of being surrounded by nature. Although both my wife and I were born and initially raised in London we both ended up living and going to school in Southern Spain, which is where we first met aged 11. The memories of being in the heat, closer to nature and by the sea, always make us smile. Now we have a baby boy, just 18 months old, we felt we had to get that lifestyle back. We’re 20 minutes in one direction from downtown Cape Town and 20 minutes from the sea, and 20 minutes from Katrina’s parents too.
The area is naturally beautiful, wonderfully green and in the foothills of Table Mountain with all the amazing walks and runs on our doorstep. Our dog Chili, who came with us from London, loves it here too.
We’ve subsequently learnt that in Cape Town it’s viewed as a very quiet (boring!) area, but the tranquility really appealed to us. We both travel internationally with work around once a month, me mainly to London, and Kat to London, Paris and Shanghai, so we love coming back to our oasis, although we do still have a small flat in Lancaster Gate, London, which we short let when we’re not there.
The first thing I remember about the plot were the three trees in front of the house. A palm, a Norfolk Pine and a Pepper Tree. Totally unusual and charming but equally they felt in the right place. It immediately drew me to the house. Walking from one side to another we had a wonderful view of Table Mountain. The house itself was sweet but a little uninspiring, in what is known locally as ‘cottage style’ but we could visualize what it could become.
Internally we kept the main ground floor footprint but took out all the internal walls, removed the ceiling, added a 2nd storey and a guest studio. We increased the footprint from 250m/2 to 400m/2 and added a huge amount of volume. Ceiling heights throughout are very tall, eleven meters at one point, eight meters in the main living area and six in our bedroom.
Externally we kept the wonderful three trees and planted a lot of local wild plants. (We grow our own fruit and vegetables now).
The house is made from a light steel frame which I loved working with but it presented a different set of challenges. There is little room for site adjustments so you have to trust your design and be very detailed in the information you provide the steel producers.
I knew about and was interested in a light steel framed building but hadn’t had a chance to work with it until now. It’s a much more environmentally friendly way of building and involves a lot less site work which was appealing to me especially as we are travelling monthly. Most of the structure is pre-fabricated off site and then assembled very quickly when it arrives. It’s very exciting to watch it all go into place.
Getting the structural design right for the exposed trusses in the main living room took a lot of back and forth / negotiation with the engineer. It’s a big open space and we really wanted the height we had now which is a 30 degree pitch. We also wanted scissor trusses as we prefer the look.
We initially faced some resistance from one or two neighbours. The house is not in the traditional style which is quite conservative architecturally. It’s also now painted charcoal so it stands out a bit. That being said we’re all friendly now.
The wall on the south elevation in the living room is fully glazed with three meter tall glass doors at the bottom opening completely onto a covered external dining table which seats ten. With the doors open it has a wonderful feel of the house being open to nature and has the in-out flow we love.
The master bedroom and little boys’ room are part of the new additional floor. Unlike the bold and striking palette of the ground floor upstairs has a soft and serene feel. In the master bedroom we have white washed floors, under bedside tables and a bespoke four-poster bed. We have added gentle texture whilst the ombre green curtains have a feel of bringing the many surrounding trees into the space. The extra deep balcony off the bedroom serves as a peaceful reading space with sun loungers at one end and chairs and table at the other. There is a beautiful palm tree happily growing over the balcony and a tall Norfolk pine beyond which provides shade.
We used a local joiner to make up to my designs the kitchen units, walk in wardrobes, our four poster bed, dining table, writing desk, and the drinks bar.
From the UK we shipped half a container of furniture and some art. Some we sourced for the new house (a beautiful pair of chairs from Kempton) but the rest was things we already had. Having moved four times in the last 6 years we had various pieces furniture and fittings in storage, some of which we’d almost forgotten about, so it was great to go through it all and incorporate pieces that worked.
Most of the furniture and art was sourced in South Africa though including; Pezula Interiors, Weytlands, La Grange, Block & Chisel, Karu Collection and The Gate House to name but a few. We’re still furnishing the house and collecting new pieces as we go.
- Architecturally led design and stand out charcoal exterior, totally unconventional for the area
- Constantia – prestigious part of Cape Town, where though traditional style and Cape Dutch architecture is more prevalent. Most houses have white exterior.
- Incorporated lots of glass windows and doors so as to integrate nature and the outside into the interiors.
- Rare triple height ceilings to provide a greater sense of space and maximise the plot.
- 90% of furniture was sourced or commissioned from local craftsman and artisans – from the four poster bed, the master bedroom desk, the canoe, the dining room table, the coffee tables, the soft furnishings, objects.
- Life-size giraffe mural hand painted by local artist Peter Jewiss.
- Collection of art, to include: Tanya Ling line paintings (x 2 blue and x 1 green), Castros, Fashion Illustration, limited edition photographs.
- Organic vegetable and herb garden – converted from a dead space at the back house. Complimented by other fruit trees, to include avocado, apricot and lemon.
- Three entertainment spaces – indoor dining area (open plan) that can open out fully to the outdoor dining and lounge terrace, great for sunset viewing. Summer Tequila bar and Braii area created by the pool (named after our dog “Chilli” – Chilli’s Bar and Grill”.)
- Home office created from a converted garage – loft feel and very light.
- Various zones created with reading, meditation and contemplation in mind, with nature in full view. With the master bedroom balcony, there is a feeling of sitting in and amongst the trees at canopy level.
Questions answered by Rory
Q: is this the first house you have designed ?
In a sense yes. I’ve designed houses in UK but with an architect and you tend to follow the local architectural language in London. This allowed much more creative freedom in terms of shape, size, materials etc which was wonderful. More of a blank canvas.
Q: Was the pool already there ? did you change anything to it ?
The pool was here but we dechlorinated it and its now a clean water pool, we also added the planting and tiling which wasn’t there. Having lived here a year or so now our plan is to make it larger and deeper into an eco-pool but not for a while.
Q: did you design the staircase ?
Yes .I designed it to our specification and had it made by a local joiner
Details about the master bathroom
The master bath is monochrome but has a lovely texture through the tiling and accessories. Having had quite a cramped bathroom in our last London apartment this feels spacious and inviting. I kept the wall tiling to a minimum (in shower only) as we wanted to hang art and make although monochrome make it feel warm and a fluid extension of the bedroom and walkthrough dressing room.
Why did you design the bedroom terrace so deep ?
It’s such a lovely spot, with a stunning view of Table Mountain and with the palm tree growing over it. The bedroom is already quite spacious and I wanted somewhere you could happily spread out, do yoga, work, read and when the doors are open it feels like an extensions of the bedroom
kitchen diner details
The kitchen was bespoke by Play Associates and build by a local joiner. The cabinets are matt charcoal and textured kiaat, the worktop is a semi matt charcoal quartzite.
The dining table and garden bar top were made from two beautiful slabs or gum tree we found and had made by a furniture maker here in Cape Town, Marc Pincente. He also made our 4 poster bed.
Baskets accessories on wall
I really wanted to have some traditional made African pieces but in a way that wasn’t ‘for the sake of it’. We found pieces with muted tones that worked with the overall palette and loved the textures of the hand woven baskets and bowls. We’re collected pieces as we go. Beading is a traditional South African technique and we’ve bought some beaded cushions and are on the look-out for a fully beaded chair.
Suppliers – Local Cape Town
Block & Chisel
Malawian Chair Company
The Gate House
Crazy Chair Co
Suppliers – International
John England Fabrics
Play Associates – Constantia Project, Cape Town, South Africa
Photography Adam Letch