Text and styling Julia Stadler Photographs Warren Heath
It’s virtually impossible to miss the visually striking bach-style timber home of Wojtek and Frances Orzechowski. The house, with its multi-level facade, perches on a slope overlooking a tranquil vlei and is within easy walking distance of Plettenberg Bay’s Robberg beach. It was appropriately named ‘Soul Arch’ after the legendary moves of 1970s star surfer Gerry Lopez, when lingo like ‘casual grace’ abounded in surfing circles. And for a couple passionate about the sea and surf, this is exactly what their home embodies.
The family moved to the Garden Route from Scarborough in Cape Town, following a surprise announcement by Wojtek after a trip to Knysna, when he declared it was ‘time for a new adventure, somewhere different’. And just like that they packed up their lives and headed for Plettenberg Bay.
Initially living totally off the grid in a tiny cottage on a friend’s farm, they took easily to a simpler existence. ‘We realised how little you need to be truly happy,’ says Frances, explaining that living close to nature was just what they wanted for their son, Tadjio, now 12.
The experience also influenced the holistic approach the couple took towards designing and building their home. ‘The difficult part was finding the right plot in the right area,’ says Wojtek, whose love of the sea was paramount to their relocating to the Robberg Peninsula. Eventually buying ‘one of the steepest plots in Plett’, the fact that it was so close to the beach ‘made the challenge of building here worth the risk’, explains Wojtek, who has extensive experience in both the building and furniture-design industries.
They approached local architect and close friend Tessa van Schaik to help combine their ideas into a workable plan. Their initial inspiration came from a New Zealand home the couple had admired on the cover of House and Leisure (March 2009). ‘The fact that it was unique, connected seamlessly with the elements and was made from sustainable timber fitted all our criteria,’ says Frances. ‘Our main objective was to achieve a flat living space and to connect the indoor and outdoor spaces for easy living.’
The architectural brief was simple: to build as eco-consciously as possible, using mostly recycled timber and incorporating the reclaimed doors and windows Wojtek had rescued from demolition sites over the years. Maximising natural light and orientating the house away from prevailing winds were also key. For Tessa, who is keenly aware of the environment and encourages the use of raw wood and other natural materials in her architectural design, this brief provided the perfect foundation for the planning process. The results certainly didn’t disappoint and the welcoming entrance with wide timber stairs, stone-clad walls and rough cement walls are a few of the many textural elements that add to the house’s raw beauty.
The couple also contracted local landscaper Warren Stegman to transform the sand dune on which they were building into an indigenous garden. ‘So by the time we moved in we were surrounded by a well-established green space,’ remarks Wojtek.
While the entire building process took 10 months to complete, the intrepid travellers boarded a yacht and sailed off to Madagascar for two months. Inspired by its culture, they returned with reams of brightly coloured Kanga fabric for the veranda’s scatter cushions. Frances’ background in fashion design had a major influence on the finishes the couple chose for the interiors. ‘Because I work with beautiful fabrics in designing and sourcing for my Indalo / Soul Clothing shops, I knew what look and feel I wanted in our home.’
The house undoubtedly lives up to its name, with these dedicated nature-lovers having successfully achieved what they set out to do – to create a warm, light-filled home that exudes a relaxed unpretentious charm… and a whole lot of soul!
Tessa van Schaik, The Planet Thing, 082-346-9730. Indalo / Soul Clothing, 082-460-7729
Frances & Wojtek’s Home Truths
What I love most about summer is watching the dolphins off Robberg beach (Frances); early mornings and late evenings (Wojtek). The best thing about living where we do is hearing the waves at night (Frances); being able to walk to the beach with my son for a surf (Wojtek). My favourite room in our home is the outside bathroom – I love the peace and tranquillity it represents (Frances); the outside living space – for entertaining and relaxing with friends and family (Wojtek). I’m inspired by early mornings (Wojtek); running outdoors surrounded by nature (Frances). The first thing we do when we get home is throw on our wetsuits and head to the beach (Wojtek); fling off my shoes and head to the beach (Frances). My favourite piece of design advice is, use as much sustainable wood as possible when building with timber (Wojtek); keep it simple and don’t clutter your space (Frances). I collect heart-shaped stones (Frances); surfboards (Wojtek). On my bedside table is Born to Run by Christopher McDougall and a stone heart my son found for me (Frances); the Dalai Lama’s book of daily meditations (Wojtek). My most treasured piece of furniture is an antique chest of drawers and mirror I inherited from my grandmother (Frances); the Shaker cupboard that was part of my original furniture range, Orzec Essentials (Wojtek). This summer we’re entertaining with homemade pizza – our special friends spoilt us with the gift of a pizza oven. My most rash purchase was getting a puppy the day our son was born (Wojtek). My most inspiring place is the top of any mountain (Frances); 10km off Robberg on my surf ski (Wojtek).
This article was originally featured in the November 2011 issue of House and Leisure.