In the generally arid landscape of the coast that runs north from Cape Town, Langebaan lagoon is a surprising blue bombshell. The pride of the West Coast National Park, this vast sweep of calm blue water, enclosed by curving arches of soft green fynbos, is home to flamingos, while on its shores, eland, springbuck, zebra and bat-eared foxes can be seen frolicking in the daisies on the park’s famous Postberg Reserve when it opens each spring. Down south, on the edge of the water, lies a group of privately owned houses. This little patch of the park known as Churchhaven is one of the Cape’s best kept secrets. Originally the farm Stofbergsfontein, it was jointly owned by members of the community until 1991, when they changed their shares to full title-deed ownership and sold their land.
The plot bought by Pretoria property developer Louis van der Vyver was a small one on a rise above the lagoon with neverending views of the blue water. Here, with the help of Alex Smuts of Domain Architects, who has designed several Churchhaven houses, Louis built a U-shaped cottage with two bedrooms on either side, all of them flowing onto a shady inside patio protected from the wind. It was what Alex calls a winning recipe, the parents’ bedrooms separated from the children’s by the living area.
The aim was to create a place in harmony with the environment. ‘We had strict guidelines from the home owners’ association, and the design had to be approved by the parks board and the local council,’ says Louis. They had to lower the roof pitch to minimise visual impact and protect the fynbos. Windows had to be small and materials sourced locally.
Since the area was off the grid with no municipal services, the house needed to be fully self-supporting. That’s the price you pay for living in a pristine paradise. It had to harvest its own rainwater, draw on the energy of the sun, and use a septic tank, gas stove and geyser, and low-energy fridge and freezer. Lighting was run from the solar electrical system. You brought your own drinking water.
‘We put a one-metre-deep reservoir under the entire patio,’ says Alex. ‘It holds 36 000 litres of rainwater, sufficient for the whole year, unlike the water capacity of the other houses here, which have all gone for rain tanks.’
That was 2003. Fast forward to this year and the home has undergone a total decor revamp, courtesy of the soft-spoken dynamo who has since become Louis’s wife, Alida, an executive in a Pretoria engineering company.
‘The house had been decorated by Louis in a rather clinical manner, and I had a completely different picture in my head,’ she says. ‘But I trod lightly, until one day I was introduced to Cape Town interior designer Salomé Gunter. Then it was game over for Louis! In the last two years we’ve trawled countless antique and collectable shops. Hats off to Salomé and her team who had their hands full with me. Every time I saw something I thought could work, I would take a photo and send it to her for approval, or forgiveness because I had bought it already! Fortunately she
has the ability to make the best of everything.
‘Now when I walk into the house I am embraced by an overwhelming feeling that there really is hope for second marriages and that life does offer second chances – not only for old furniture! That it is possible for two vastly different individuals to meet each other halfway – admittedly more my half! Louis is an incredibly supportive husband and I have to give him credit for his adaptability and open-mindedness.’
Nothing jars in these serene spaces. They’re warm with an understated but contemporary style that’s visually pleasing in this natural setting. The collectables Alida fell in love with while hunting the shops all chime in perfectly with Salomé’s choice of attractive curtains and striking wallpapers for each bedroom.
So does the paddle headboard in the kids’ rooms. ‘I got the idea from Pinterest,’ Alida says. ‘Finding old oars proved to be impossible so I had some made, and then nearly fainted when Salomé wanted to paint them white. But as with everything she touches, they turned out perfect.’
The family only holidays here about four times a year. ‘Not enough,’ says Alida. ‘I love this house. It has a relaxed, authentic ambience that encourages people to kuier. It’s furnished for comfort, and decorated to reflect who we are and what we value.’
Originally published in HL November 2014.