A Bold and Sculptural Abode in Camps Bay
This bold and sculptural alteration in Cape Town is a masterclass in the richness, warmth and sensuality of a dark colour palette.
Angled at a rakish 45 degrees in one of the leafier corners of Camps Bay, Cape Town, is a home that looks out in a different direction to the rest. The drama of the abode’s non- conformist geometry is emphasised by its dark, almost black facade.
That said, it’s anything but a reactionary rebel. Rather than being forbidding, the house imparts a sense of warmth, offsetting the verdance in and around it in a way that makes it seem somehow elemental – like an abstracted part of its surrounds.
Until recently, this bold addition to the suburban landscape existed in an altogether different incarnation: it was an Art and Crafts- style bungalow. The owner lived in the building as it was for six years before making substantial changes – just ‘feeling it out’, as he puts it, and enjoying the setting. ‘We loved the greenness and leafiness of the site,’ he says.
It might not have had the panoramic sea and mountain perspectives typically sought after in the area, but the property was nestled in a relatively sheltered corner of the suburb, just 12 minutes’ walk from the seashore. ‘We have a lot of greenery around us, unlike most of the rest of Camps Bay, where it’s quite hard and stark,’ says the owner. And it had lovely vistas. You can see parts of the beach and the cable car station on Table Mountain, ‘and we’ve got wonderful views on the Hout Bay side, all the way towards the Twelve Apostles,’ he adds.
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When the time came to make an alteration, the owner turned to architect Greg Scott. ‘You could understand the orientation,’ says Scott. The original house was angled to catch more of the northern light, and to protect itself from the harsh sun in the west.
So, while the house in its present incarnation is almost unrecognisable, its unconventional stance was already there, and worth keeping. ‘Interestingly, that unusual orientation set up a lot of the new building’s current geometry,’ says Scott. ‘It created many of the interesting angles, and a lot of lovely front and back spaces around the house.
’While the more dramatic changes involved pulling off the roof and knocking down most of the internal walls, a large part of Scott’s job was framing and editing the vistas. Again, a typical Camps Bay scenario involves a seascape in front, and a mountain outlook behind. ‘We also had side views and the little garden pockets,’ adds Scott. ‘The owner had done a lot of work on the garden already, so there were beautifully established outdoor spaces we didn’t want to touch. We worked around the trees and planted banks to achieve something with an element of intimacy.’
He created protruding square windows, some of them designed to make wood-panelled window seats, to frame views and integrate outside pockets of garden with the interior. ‘Those wooden-surrounded windows are so great to sit in,’ says the owner. ‘You capture the beautiful winter sun: it’s a nice place to chill out and read the paper.’
The owner says that it was some of the more subtle and thoughtful details that really convinced him of the essential rightness of the design. The balcony from the bedroom on the upper level – a kind of cantilevered pergola structure – not only provided the upstairs outdoor area that he desperately wanted, but also created comfortable outside spaces downstairs, making it possible to include a patio. ‘Before, it was just a flat-fronted building, and those overhangs created wonderful shade and depth to the westerly facade,’ he says. The dark exterior actually took its lead from the interior.
For Scott, the obvious answer to his clients’ brief for ‘a sexy space with a lot of warmth’ was to use a consistently monochrome scheme throughout the house, with the addition of natural materials such as chestnut flooring. ‘A lot of people think [the palette] is cold and dark, but it’s not,’ he says. ‘If anything, it adds warmth and richness.’ ‘The stone and the steel all work within a fairly narrow range of darkish colours, and then it’s just tempered by warmth, which we did with leather, and timber on the floors,’ he adds. ‘We’ve also used reflective materials to create depth.
The richness comes from balancing the textures and materials, and thanks to their inherent richness, you don’t need a lot of stuff.’ The fact that the house is so open – ‘A good 30–60% of the walls are glass,’ says Scott – means that every room is flooded with natural light. ‘So we could get away with it,’ he laughs.
While black is clearly a base colour, the interior is predominantly white with black accents. Nevertheless, that translated into a uniformly black exterior. While Scott and the owner initially discussed various greys, they eventually decided to take the plunge and go with black.
The inherent darkness of the windows during the day means they ‘recede and disappear into the building’, as Scott puts it, and the lush greenery pops against the dark background. The house still stands on its original foundations, and now, more than ever, it seems perfectly in place.