Text Deborah Louw Styling Kate Boswell Photographs Greg Cox There are so many things we can fall in love with – a person, a place, a work of art, even a view… When UK honeymooners Mark and Sandra Stephenson came to a quiet stretch of the Garden Route coast between Cape Town and Plettenberg Bay some 23 years ago, they turned off at Noetzie, gazed out at the Indian Ocean – and fell in perpetual love. On subsequent frequent trips to South Africa they mused about acquiring a home there, until one day they read in the Financial Times Weekend about the award-winning Pezula Private Estate, adjoining the Noetzie beach that had so captivated them on that first visit. For the best, uninterrupted and neighbour-free views, they wanted a plot on the frontline of the estate and, on the strength of a photograph sent to them one Friday, they put in an offer for an 18 000m² cliff-side plot – a ‘bowl in a recess on a hill’ – the next morning. It was an inspired purchase. ‘A national newspaper in the UK described it as probably the best piece of coastal real estate on the market in the world today,’ says Mark. A site as spectacular as this demanded a house of similarly imperious proportions – ‘a cottage wouldn’t do’. And so the search began for a local team to transform the property from vision to stand-tall reality. Since the couple was UK based, overseeing the project with ‘long-distance management’, they chose Cape Town architect Rick Brown, who had designed other homes on the estate as well as the five-star Pezula Resort Hotel & Spa (in conjunction with Vivid Architects). He and his team of Lisa Durell, Sian Fischer and Kim Benatar became enthusiastic participants in every aspect of the project. ‘The house had to complement the setting and yet be functional and appropriate to its exposed position,’ says Rick. Although large, it had to blend with the estate’s natural fynbos and appear understated when viewed from the access road. The project was awarded to Cape Island Construction who provided a full-time site manager for the duration of the build. By October 2010, a 1 320m² house had taken shape over three levels, exhilarating in its space, extent and mood. Its accommodation requirements include three children and an extended family that visit from time to time from Europe and the Far East. Accordingly the eastern side of the house is devoted to a guest wing of six en-suite bedrooms, each with its own unique vista and decor identity, linked by a long, glassed corridor. On the sea-facing, western side is Mark and Sandra’s private living area and bedroom suite. Because the couple wanted a statement-making entrance to the house, the natural fall of the land was exploited to create a huge angular lobby, open to the wide-screen vistas of the ocean beyond. The expansive views are also shared by the main living room and the kitchen (which is almost the only feature that is not South African – it was brought, in its entirety, from the UK). Materials chosen for their sustainability and appropriateness to the coastal site include zinc roofing, copper cladding, local stone and timber. Double-volume, sliding glass panels make up much of the ‘walls’ of the house, letting in abundant natural light. Sliding shade screens provide protection from sun and inclement weather when required (‘the wind can howl here,’ says Sandra). Cape Town-based interior specialist Magda Viotti partnered with Plett’s Tania Reddering to take care of the comfortable luxe decor. ‘They understood instantly and completely what we wanted,’ says Mark. They created pockets of versatile living spaces, working around the unusual angles and respecting the palette of ocean, sky and fynbos. Art, says Mark, is his Achilles’ heel. Enter Trent Read of Knysna Fine Art, whose passion for, and championing of, South African art is legendary. Mark bought many of the artworks ‘in one take’ from Knysna Fine Art before the house was even finished, knowing that there would be ample wall space of varying heights and plentiful light to be a fitting gallery for works by top local artists Phillemon Hlungwani, Donvé Branch, Obie Oberholzer and Theo Megaw. A Dylan Lewis leopard is on order, which will prowl at the weathered-copper wall entrance to the courtyard. Art has even found its way downstairs into the ultra-modern wine cellar, which is generously stocked with local wines. (‘Clearly I have another Achilles’ heel…’ says Mark.) While the main deck areas adjoining the two pools overlook the ocean, a patio on the northern side offers an alternative outdoor-living space, depending on the prevailing winds. The couple has been involved in construction projects before, in the UK, but they say none has ever gone so smoothly or satisfyingly. The stunning finished product can be ascribed to the whole-hearted participation of everyone who worked on it: it’s a house that has clearly evoked a very special sentiment among all the people involved. Above all, the Stephensons. Love, actually. Rick Brown & Associates Architects, rba.co.za; Cape Island Construction; Magda Viotti Interiors, firstname.lastname@example.org, 083-458-3098; Tania Reddering, email@example.com, 083-457-0458; Knysna Fine Art, 044-382-5107, finearts.co.za.
Mark & Sandra’s Home Truths
A ‘holiday’ for us means time spent with family and friends, creating memories. When we come here, the first thing we do is pinch ourselves to make sure it’s real and then have a glass of fizz. Our favourite spot in the house is around the fire pit on the deck (Sandra); the view from my bed in the morning (Mark). Inspiration came from the knowledge that we had to do something special with this incredible site, something that we would never be able to find or do in Europe. The best compliment we’ve had about it is when our most opinionated friend was lost for words for 10 minutes after his arrival on his first visit. Our favourite holiday fare is pretty much anything Monet, our chef-housekeeper, puts in front of us – if we had to choose, it’s linguini with crayfish, tomato and rucola with a splash of home-made, death-by-chilli oil! What we have discovered by living here is there aren’t enough hours in the day – and it’s very cold and wet at home (but to be fair, we knew that already). The way we entertain generally involves food, wine, conversation and a keen sense of humour, over the course of several hours. On the coffee table are, unsurprisingly, several books on food, art, wine and Africa, and a photo album cataloguing the building process. One day we would like to grow produce and make our own wine. This article was originally featured in the December 2011 issue of House and Leisure.