The first step in building this house on the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast was unconventional: planting a forest of 55 trees. ‘We bought the plot six years ago but knew we wouldn’t move in for a while,’ says the owner. ‘So we planned ahead for the feel we wanted from the house, which was the sense that we were in a bush lodge.’ The idea was for the forest to grow to the extent that neighbouring properties would be hidden by the canopy, leaving the home’s outlook to take in only green and the sea beyond.
When they were ready to build, the owners called on architect Lisa Rorich to design a house that would have the feel of a retreat, yet still sit comfortably in its urban location on an estate with contemporary finishes and amazing vistas. ‘The architecture is a response to the site and the context – it’s not just about putting a house on a plot,’ says Lisa. ‘Courtyard spaces were key, not only to blur the boundaries between inside and out but also to take into account the prevailing winds from the east at the coast. A courtyard on the inland side of the house provides a protected outdoor space.’
It’s no secret that one of the perks of living in KwaZulu-Natal is its balmy climate – ideal for outdoor living. By installing doors that disappear into wall cavities, the whole house opens up to the outdoor areas at the front and back, while the main bedroom and guest suite have verandas. ‘The open deck alongside the pool is one of our most used areas,’ say the owners. ‘It is so tranquil and if it weren’t for the sight of the odd house in the distance, you’d feel as though you were in the bush.’ The swimming pool’s rim-flow detail is similar to that of a meditative water feature, and glass balustrades appear to recede completely, ensuring unrestricted views.
Another notable detail of the house is its unconventional windows – Lisa designed a traditional louvre mechanism but instead of glass, she installed slats of marine plywood that control the flow of air and the light, and add natural texture to the interior and exterior spaces. ‘We love the fact that the wood has weathered into a subdued grey, and we’ve already swapped the outward-facing slats to look inwards to take advantage of the look in the interiors,’ say the owners.
Natural textures were an essential element of the decor and the owners say that their style has been described as African European. ‘It’s a term that makes sense because of the way we like to combine classic pieces with local touches that give a definite sense of place,’ they say. The pair previously lived on a farm and then in a seaside apartment where they amassed a collection of artworks, which now hold pride of place here. Most reference Africa, from a striking photograph of a baobab – the owners’ favourite – to an imposing shot of a cheetah, which presides over the dining table.
Sentimental items are an important part of the home and several inherited pieces of furniture have been given a new lease of life with a coat of paint or a change in size – such as the couple’s first dining table, which was cut in half lengthwise to create a console table. Items like stones that came from the owner’s father, a quarryman, and family photographs combine with chic fabrics and stylish pieces to give a homely, layered feel to the sophisticated interiors.
Botanical elements also feature and the owner has brought in touches of green and plant motifs throughout the space. ‘I love accent walls,’ she says, ‘and although I’ve used paint in the past, here we have chosen striking wallpaper to create interesting focal points in each room.’
In addition to being beautifully appointed, the house is comfortable and welcoming – a deliberate choice on the part of its inhabitants, who entertain frequently and often have guests to stay. ‘Scale and proportion were important to us, too,’ they add. ‘We wanted the house to feel inviting and not at all cavernous, and Lisa has done an excellent job in designing spaces that are the right size for our lifestyle and the furnishings we had in mind. Although we have beautiful things, nothing is too precious and we can relax, put our feet up and encourage our guests to do the same.’
This home originally appeared in House and Leisure’s April Issue.