Everyone has their own definition of luxury, but these days, social media has become the arbiter for many people. However, for internationally renowned Capetonian architect couple Ian Macduff and Charrisse Johnston, “luxury is not about gold-plated fixtures and polished marble.” Far from it, say the owners of design firm studioSALT, and their recently completed house on Kommetjie’s beachfront exemplifies their beliefs. For them, luxury and authenticity means having a home designed for “exactly how we live – our lifestyle and needs,” Charrisse explains.
What makes the home luxurious to them are not flashy, trendy Instagrammable vignettes, but about easy living. So, they have invested in elements such as double glazing and carefully designed fenestration, to admit ample daylight while mitigating heat gain, and a solar PV system that makes loadshedding barely noticeable. It’s because of these reasons that visitors often remark that the home just feels good to be inside and makes them feel comfortable and relaxed.
The ultimate on-the-beach plot
The plot is now undoubtedly one of the most sought after in Kommetjie, only 30m from the beach and a short walk from two legendary surf spots. The house is sited to the rear of the plot, hidden from the road by a small rental cottage so that one would not even know that it is there. Ian purchased the land 24 years ago along with the adjacent plot that sits directly on the beach, planning to eventually design a house where he can check the surf as soon as he wakes up, without even getting out of bed.
Authenticity in design
Their house is testimony to the couple’s authenticity – not only in its pared back exterior, but also demonstrated in its carefully considered interior design and furnishings, a combination of South African craftsmanship and Ian’s family heirlooms.
Visitors will notice some beautiful and unusual touches that some people may find too simplistic; the builders could not believe that the concrete tie-rod holes were to be left unfilled, for example. But for Ian and Charrisse, the unpretentious, honest materials are exactly what they wanted. Raw concrete, whitewashed brick, sandstone and stucco were used throughout the home’s interior and exterior.
One James Bond feature
Besides the house’s unbelievable oceanfront location, another special touch (and what Charrisse calls “Ian’s James Bond gadget”) are the remote-controlled exterior blinds that shade their bedroom’s full-height glass walls from the setting sun. Ian notes it is much more energy efficient to block the sun on the outside before it enters the house, rather than relying on interior blinds which absorb and radiate energy. The blinds are tied to an anemometer that retracts them automatically during high wind speeds, which is so often the case during the Cape’s legendary storms.
Architectural style and choice of materials
When asked about the house’s style, Ian points out that other the angled elements on the roof and the braai, the house has no definable style – although some people have commented that it looks a bit like an ocean liner. The massing of the house was entirely determined by the site constraints and orientation, but as Ian says, it is basically a plain, white-washed brick house.
Incidentally, this is Ian’s first brick building, as most of his residential work has been done in the US, where the norm is wood framing and drywall. and drywalling. Brick manufacturing is also known to have a high carbon footprint. But here in South Africa, where brick construction is ubiquitous, fast and durable and builders, it was the obvious choice.
Pine decking, latte and gum poles are other humble, local materials that were selected for both their aesthetic and performance qualities.
Another unique material was the polycarbonate walls. Commonly used in industrial buildings, the material was only available in 16mm in South Africa and will most likely require a second layer to achieve ideal insulation values. Although the tradesmen had never used this high-tech material before, with Ian’s help, they soon devised ingenious ways to install it. The end result is a light filled space that affords great privacy, and glows like a lantern in the evenings.
Local finds and treasures complete the house, with elements such as sandstone rescued from a nearby building site, and 100-year-old yellowwood and Oregon pine. The beams were obtained from a Cape Town salvage yard, carefully stripped of its fire-charred exterior and old nails, then reshaped by hand into stair treads, bookshelves, and a custom pivoting front door.
Building the house so close to the beach required special attention to waterproofing, marine grade light fixtures, and rainwater drainage. Stainless steel water tanks typically found on a farm collect runoff during harsh winter storms, to be used to water the garden that is filled with drought-tolerant indigenous plantings.
Charrisse and Ian’s no-frills approach has resulted in the ultimate Kommetjie home, filled with charm and character, that fits in with its neighbouring buildings and yet is unlike any other. They are already hard at work designing the house on the empty adjacent plot. The new house will require lightweight modular construction as opposed to brick and concrete, due to lack of accessibility and the rocky ground, but the couple intend to design it so that it feels like a sibling to the current one, not an entirely different vernacular of its own. For the time being, it sits empty and serves as their dog’s personal play yard.
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