A stunning seaside location inspires the design of this South African holiday home

It all came together very easily; things naturally fitted into place,” explains architect Greg Truen (of the acclaimed firm SAOTA Architecture and Design) about the process behind his and wife Liz’s holiday home at Silver Bay along South Africa’s West Coast.

“It was dictated firstly by the site itself, which drops down towards the sea. Choosing to locate the living area on the upper level to maximise the views and to see the shoreline, and placing the bedrooms and a playroom downstairs for a walk-to-the-beach connection, was almost automatic.”

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Sliding aluminium and glass doors lead on to a wind-protected courtyard on the north side of the house, providing an extension to the single-space living area of the upper level.

More than that, the couple wanted the entire upstairs area (indoors and out) to enjoy as close a relationship as possible with the unsurpassable ocean views and the natural surroundings of beach, sea, dunes and fynbos. This extended to creating wind-free outdoor living spaces that communicate directly with the internal environment and are also connected to the greater natural context.

“We wanted to treat the entire space as a single room, so the effect on entering was of walking into one large space, with the sea dominating everything,” explains Truen. “Many of the design decisions were made purely to expand the magnificent views and to bring in light and the natural surroundings as far as we could.”

At any turn, it’s impossible to forget for a moment that despite being a two-hour drive from Cape Town, this is an entirely different world.

Other than the views, the focal point in the living area is a cowl flue chimney made of Corten steel and a generous fireplace set in an off-shutter concrete plinth. Greg chose the specific steel because of its propensity to rust to a certain point, which again softens the modern elements of the house and is in keeping with the traditional character of the area.

Another consideration was no less important: to refer back to traditional West Coast vernacular architecture without compromising the contemporary aesthetics and modernist lines. And from the protected pool courtyard on the northern side of the house to the stepped glazing of the downstairs bedrooms, and to the rustic thatched roof, all of this has been has been achieved and more.

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Bleached poplar beams support the open roof, softening the flamed granite flooring that echoes the natural boulders so typical of this stretch of unspoilt coastline. By using steel tie beams instead of horizontal timber beams to support the roof, Truen has created a generous double-volume space flooded by light from roof-height triangular windows. Lime-washed oak walls further the organic, softening effect of the thatch, while steel and wrought-iron elements keep the house firmly within the modern idiom.

Vintage Turkish carpets in the same colours as the shells found on the beach have been cut up and re-stitched together, bringing warmth to the flamed granite floor. The blue tables are made of Jacaranda branches wrapped in steel.

This house is the perfect place to relax, unwind and banish all thoughts of the city.

Spaces are expansive yet distinct; the palette is uncomplicated, drawn from the natural environment; simple furnishings are oversized, tactile and chosen to enhance absolute relaxation. But it’s the connection with the landscape that is the house’s most striking, dominant feature. At any turn, it’s impossible to forget for a moment that despite being just a two-hour drive from Cape Town, this is an entirely different world.

It’s one of huge, empty landscapes and of pungent sea air, with a soundtrack of crashing waves, gentle breezes, rustling grasses and the occasional deep, dark notes of a dramatic foghorn. It’s a world where tortoises plod along sandy tracks, where small antelope wander into the indigenous garden to forage for tasty succulents, and where uninterrupted views offer sightings of endemic Heaviside’s dolphins, southern right whales and several bird species. And it’s no less remarkable that the house so easily blends into and becomes a part of that same world.

In the back bedroom, a German marine biology diagram of whales is a reminder of what lies outside, as is the organic sisal rug, which warms the cold surfaces. The wooden four-poster bed continues the rustic timber theme and old chairs inherited from Liz’s family hark back to yesteryear.

Off-shutter concrete ceilings echo the textures of sand and rock on the beach below, while open glassed gables in the roof-ends provide a moving-picture show of clouds and sky. Sisal carpets, the tent-like thatch and timber (such as the lime-washed oak walls and doors) bring in the softer natural fauna elements of the surrounding reeds and grasses. A large conical mass of corten steel forms the pivot of the upstairs space; with its rusted surface, it wouldn’t look out of place on one of the weathered ocean-going trawlers that languidly pass along the horizon.

“It doesn’t happen often,” muses Truen, “that a house so quickly and easily, so straightforwardly, falls into place – when everything just fits and feels right.” Looking around, one knows exactly what he means.

Liz sits at the enormous rustic James Mudge table in the upper living level, which has been treated as one large space, with the kitchen as its hub.

Wrought iron lights created by Cape Town metal-work maestro Peter Forbes of Bad Machine and steel elements keep the house firmly within the modern idiom, softened by the organic thatched roof – a nod to traditional West Coast architecture. Chinese timber stools are in keeping with the influence of Japanese architect Tadao Ando.

The entire roof is supported by a big steel I-beam, with steel tie beams replacing timber ones in order to create an expansive, double-volume space.

At the entrance is an oak-clad door leading to a guest bathroom. The artwork is again by Liz’s mother, Margot Morris.

The main bedroom’s en suite bathroom features a picture window cut into the wall, looking out into the swimming pool.

It’s a feature that provides a huge visual effect, with the ever-changing movement of water and change of light.

The house’s indigenous fynbos garden blends into the natural coastal landscape. A timber walkway at the side of the house offers direct beach access.


This story will be published in our August 2018 issue as “Cape Escape.” For more extraordinary nature-inspired homes, stay tuned for our outdoor-focused issue, coming to newsstands very soon.

Photography: Greg Cox/Bureaux
Production and styling: Sven Alberding