A considered balance between context and function, this coastal holiday home has the sea at its front and the indigenous milkwood forest at its rear, with both continually present throughout its spaces. The dwelling responds to its location superbly well: it is situated in Buffelsbaai, which is next door to the Goukamma Nature Reserve and Marine Protected Area, with the wide curve of the bay hugging a pristine beach.
During the summer months, this tiny enclave — there are just 200 or so houses, on small stands — swells in population size as holidaymakers converge on the Garden Route. This new home does something very different from the typical South African beach-house theme — and is genuinely context-sensitive.
Both architect Guillaume Pienaar and the client know the area intimately: the client had “spent many holidays in the original house over many years and knew exactly what they wanted” from their new home, Pienaar explains. As for himself, he has “spent time at this beach surfing since childhood — and I love this street”.
As a result of this local knowledge and experience, the initial brief made complete sense to both parties. The plot has an east-west axis, with the beach views on the eastern side at the front, which in turn means that summer’s prevailing southeasterly wind also tends to strike this elevation of the home. Outdoor living at the front of the previous house was therefore often an unpleasantly windswept experience and the client was “looking for solutions” to this problem, says Pienaar, adding that they nevertheless “wanted as many spaces as possible in the house to have a view of the ocean”.
Finally, the brief included five en-suite bedrooms, plus a large garage-workshop- storage area, required to house vehicles and trailers, as well as solar-power storage equipment. To fulfil this multidimensional brief on the narrow site, says Pienaar, “scale was of the utmost importance from day one”, in order to prevent the building from seeming out of proportion in its modest locale. Also key was his sense of the necessary connection between the sea and the indigenous milkwood forest directly behind the plot. It was crucial, Pienaar felt, to “push the house as far back from the street into the indigenous milkwood forest and the sloped site” as possible.
He adds that, following the build, “a collaboration with a local horticulturalist allowed us to plant further coastal thicket plants and milkwoods, with the aim of re-establishing the vegetation around the house, and between it and the public realm”. In essence, the house will gradually “disappear” into the rejuvenated natural forest. Additionally, to keep the scale of the dwelling under control given its beach-village context, the building has minimum 2 400mm ceiling heights throughout, with roof parapet walls omitted, and stepped massing used to mimic the site’s natural topography.
The façade is raised above the garaging, immediately generating a level of privacy from the beach, and is split between a patio area and a large, angled bay window. This picture window “allows for a 180-degree view of the shoreline” from right inside the house, says Pienaar, creating “a very successful space internally” that is perfect for use all year round, and in every kind of weather. With public spaces at the front and “degrees of privacy and silence increasing towards the rear”, plus a large garage and storage space tucked underneath the living area, the house is built over three stepped levels, and is noteworthy for its sculptural aspect and thoughtful yet striking detailing.
Light, views, and sea air are drawn through the building from east to west, assisted by the placement of two concrete “ears” — one on either side of the building, and serving the two bedrooms placed at the rear. At the home’s centre is an internal courtyard, which allows its occupants to keep all the interior doors open (day and night) and the building to ventilate naturally. The courtyard space is also useful on days when the wind from the sea is particularly strong.
Throughout all the interiors, too, a restricted material and colour palette results in a marvellously pared-back aesthetic, and keeps seaside maintenance to a minimum. “I love leaving building materials as close to their original state as possible,” says Pienaar. “We used off-shutter concrete to create a textured feel and allow the owner the least amount of maintenance on the building, while the warmth of the wood used for doors and windows is an ideal contrast.”
Likewise, the interior-design choices have been kept resolutely minimal and practical while meeting the requirements of holiday comfort. Custom-designed decor elements — built-in lounge seating, a round table created especially for card games or puzzle building, and a 10-seater dining table — combine with items that are either effectively fixed in place or easily moveable, as best suits their function and situation.
The lighting design is another strong point, with off-the-shelf fittings deployed in ways that add up to much more than the sum of their parts. Explains Pienaar, “I prefer to limit the use of expensive imported lighting — you can use an everyday fitting, but design around it to give it a bit more ‘substance’.” For example, he asked the building contractor to use curved plastic salad bowls to create the concrete formwork for simple glass wall lights: the resulting smooth, reflective, integrated concrete indentations in the walls might house very basic fittings, but the lights as a whole have a luxe, contemporary feel.
Combining a resolute commitment to architecture that respects its context with clever detailing and minimalist interiors, this house already has the air of a building that will become a landmark. Its overall form is, as Pienaar says, rather reminiscent “of an old Land Rover: very rugged and ‘boxy’, but functional”. And just as in that classic piece of design, here the air of honest practicality is overlaid with a simple and genuine charm.
This article was originally published in the July 2022 issue of Wanted.