Set on the slopes below Cape Town’s Table Mountain, in the quiet, green enclave of Higgovale with its all-embracing views over the city, is a house that is something of a phenomenon. In an area notable for some striking examples of contemporary architecture, this one stands out for reasons beyond its breathtaking clean lines and how, despite its strong concrete plains, it appears light as a feather, almost floating above its site.
The home of renowned structural engineer Craig Sutherland, his wife, Colleen, and their family, its present form – a harmonious study of balance and flow, with a distinctly tactile sense about it – is actually its second incarnation. Having bought the property 11 years ago, when their children, Keegan, 17, Adrienne, 14, and Casey, 11, were still little, their needs had been altogether different to what they are now, explains Craig. They had done what he calls ‘an extensive hack-and-bash’ on the existing dwelling, modifying it to suit the family.
For a perfectionist such as Craig, the onset of teenage-dom among the brood, with the family’s fast-changing needs, was the perfect excuse to revisit its design, and he called in Stefan Antoni and Phillip Olmesdahl of Stefan Antoni Olmesdahl Truen Architects (SAOTA), with whom he’s worked extensively on residential projects over the years, to consider the options. After much consideration, together they decided to build anew, allowing for better utilisation of the steep site, repositioning the structure for protection against the prevailing southeaster and much more effective off-street garaging. And not only designing a more capacious home, with plenty of private and communal areas for adults and teens, but creating a seamless flow between the spaces.
The crux of the brief was for the house to reflect the Sutherlands’ passion for contemporary architecture while, importantly, feeling comfortable and easy going; a family home first and foremost, and one that would be conducive to the kind of laid-back, sociable living they enjoy. ‘We wanted it to be a place where our kids could hang out with all their friends,’ says Colleen.
In what was a successful arrangement, SAOTA was tasked with the conceptualisation, with the plans then handed over to another firm. ‘We wanted to work with a younger, up-and-coming team to do the detailed design and construction,’ says Craig, who was introduced by Stefan to Kim Benatar and Sian Fisher of Three14 Architects. ‘SAOTA produced a very strong design for this home,’ explains Kim. ‘Our challenge was to translate it, adding our own identities and aesthetic.’
Describing themselves as ‘minimalists at heart’, Kim and Sian’s design language references their love of linearity, veering away from the ‘fussy or precious’. ‘The result we aim for is elegant yet relaxed,’ says Kim. It’s an effect instantly evident in the house, which is both excitingly architectural with its off-shutter concrete and expanses of glass, but also human in its sense of feeling warm and contained.
It has much to do with the materiality of the house, with its textured layers of smooth, grey concrete, exposed brickwork, stone and liberal use of rough timber. Colleen added her own soft, tactile layering to the interiors using a neutral palette and natural textiles.
For such a convivial family, it’s no surprise that the open-plan kitchen forms the heart of the home. The living areas spill out to a fabulous deck, where warmer months invite casual braais while gazing out over the city lights by night. On the lower level is the ultimate teen entertainment space, complete with a pool table, which leads to the lawn and swimming pool. There’s a contemporary take on a boma in the garden and, for casual summer suppers, a pizza oven that keeps the young and young-at-heart equally happy. It seems, too, that this is what the home as a whole has achieved. Sutherland Multidisciplinary Engineers, ; SAOTA, ; Three14 Architects.
This article was published in October 2012