A Langebaan Home Achieves Total Simplicity In Design

Designers Gwen and Gawie Fagan's affinity for the sea flows through the modernist architecture of their brilliantly simple Langebaan home.

Inge Prins Production Charl Edwards
Charl Edwards
Langebaan Home | House and Leisure
Gawie and Gwen Fagan’s seaside home is set on the shores of Langebaan lagoon. The vaulted ceiling, resembling waves, almost disappears into the landscape. Soaring above the house, the chimney is a playful addition to its design.

Ask Gwen and Gawie Fagan about this modernist Langebaan home that is their holiday house, and they’ll tell you they don’t have a holiday house. ‘A home is a home wherever it is,’ says Gwen. ‘We don’t distinguish between holiday and ordinary houses. It’s a place that makes us happy. It’s part of us.’ 

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Painted in a palette of blues and white, the home has a decidedly Grecian air.

Yet as you stand on the terrace of this low-slung abode right on the frothy shoreline – surrounded by the rhythmic crashing waves, cawing seagulls and the salty-sweet sea breeze – you’re struck with that quintessential holiday feeling. And no one seems more relaxed in this Langebaan home than Gawie and Gwen as they sit, always hand-in-hand, on their chairs overlooking the ocean. 

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Gawie and Gwen share a moment on the patio, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

Admittedly, taking it easy is an unusual activity for the husband-and-wife team who, midway into their 90s, are still at work every day at Gabriël Fagan Architects on Bree Street in central Cape Town.

‘It’s a sense of relief when you arrive here,’ says Gwen of their Langebaan home. ‘We love the sea.’

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Always sitting close together and rarely without a book or other reading material in hand, Gawie and Gwen relax in the open-plan living space.

An affinity for water is rooted in Gawie’s upbringing. ‘He’s always been fond of the sea and building boats,’ says Gwen, who recalls Gawie’s intrepid seafaring adventures with a knowing smile. ‘He’s done the Cape to Rio five times and in the last race, when he was 80, he was the oldest man with the smallest boat and he came first!’ 

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The sea theme flows into every part of this home but, thankfully, not as yet another twee nautical interior scheme.

It’s in the way that the building is set on the site, seemingly suspended between sky and sea, and in the vaulted ceiling that softly undulates like waves in the ocean.

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Gawie and Gwen’s approach to interiors is simple, opting for the essentials of living over decorative detail.

It’s also in the porthole windows that give you peeks at the view as if you were inside the hull of a ship, and in the chimney that looks a little like the periscope of a submarine, looking out for distant land. 

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The open-plan living zone, comprising of dining area, kitchen and lounge, is pared-back yet bright, and geared to relaxation.

Much like a submarine, this home is submerged. The Fagans dug into the earth to set the home in line with the shore, ‘so we didn’t make an imprint on the landscape,’ says Gwen. It might be encased in its surroundings, but it opens up to the light, which streams in through expansive glass panels, inviting natural warmth into interior zones. 

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Shutters open right out to the sea, letting the crisp sea breeze flow through the home.

The façade’s defining feature – that chimney, which soars almost comically high above its footprint – is a playful and unexpected addition to what might be perceived as an otherwise deceptively simple design.

Gawie says with a chuckle, ‘Ours is the only single storey so we put in the chimney to one-up the neighbours.’ 

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The Fagans’ approach to the bedrooms was to utilise space in compact zones, the rails that climb up one side of the wall lead to a small open space, which is used as a landing for the children’s bedding when family comes to stay.

‘The plan is actually ridiculously simple,’ he explains of his approach, an ethos that’s at the heart of his work and life as an architect. This is nowhere more evident than in the bones of the house, which were created using just one material. From the driveway, through the interiors, up the walls and along the curves of the vaulted ceiling, bricks pave the way through the home, encouraging any new visitor through its spaces and providing a calming sense of continuity. 

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The brick used on the floors runs right through the house. It was the primary building material used.

But simplicity is not just an architectural technique for the Fagans. Their lives have been centred around creating spaces that allow for minimalist living and effortless enjoyment. Here, they’ve pared back interiors to cater to the basic elements of happiness, pushing aside design flourish for life’s essentials. 

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Subtle yet distinctive nautical details such as this door are scattered throughout.

You won’t find a flat-screen TV anywhere. Instead, every free surface groans under the weight of well-worn books, which the Fagans devour with relish. Seats and cushions carry the creased evidence of long, lingering conversations; personal spaces are intimate yet open. Every design decision has an intention, whether it’s to draw people together or allow them the luxury of immersing themselves in nature. This might not be a holiday home, but it’s an ode to the very spirit of holidays.

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The en suite bathrooms, featuring blue mosaic tiles, are compact but functional.
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