The energy of ad man, chef, author, retailer and hotelier Neil Roake knows no bounds. In the creative arena, there is very little that he doesn’t tackle and in which he doesn’t wildly succeed. Take, for instance, The Space, a retail store that was the first to support local designers 20 years ago, which is still going strong today. Or The Concierge Boutique Bungalows, his award-winning design-driven hotel in Durban. Consider Neil’s Life’s A Beach Cottage cookbooks as well as the demands of his advertising and marketing agency Modern Museum, plus a new retail offering called Now Showing about to launch in Cape Town, and you’ll begin to understand the magnitude of force that propels this man forward.
And yet, when it came to building his new home in Cape Town’s sought-after suburb of Bakoven, Neil admits to feeling a little overwhelmed. ‘There were times when I stood looking up at what was then a mess of a building site and thought it impossible that we would ever get it right,’ he says. By all accounts it was a complicated brief, because the steep, slightly awkward plot had to accommodate two separate houses – both of which had to look out onto the mountains at the rear and the seascape in front.
‘In order to accommodate two dwellings, they had to share a level, and our challenge was to give them both privacy,’ says Neil. ‘As it was a new build, I also wanted to incorporate a sense of soul by using raw materials and lush landscaping.’ In addition, he desired a simple palette that would employ a mix of off-shutter concrete, locally quarried blue-slate cladding and rock walls with wood and marble underfoot, as well as gleaming copper accents.
‘If that weren’t enough, it also needed to take in views while offering respite from the sun and noise of the beach,’ he says. ‘And did I mention a dream kitchen in which I could cook and relax with my children and friends?’
Enter Stellenbosch-based architect Willem Bosch, whose fluid and dynamic approach found solutions to all of Neil’s requirements. ‘Willem is probably the most enigmatic and positive person I have ever met,’ says Neil. ‘His first version for the design was almost perfect, and I was amazed that within days of the sketch plans being approved, there was a 3D version in my inbox.’ There was also a distinct absence of the machinery frequently used to get equipment or materials onto similar Atlantic Seaboard sites.
‘Building this home was like constructing the pyramids,’ says Neil with a wry smile. ‘In a town where no one seems to build a house without a crane, our bricks were thrown one by one onto the property and we were still finished on time.’
The entire 900m² plot now holds a development comprising two dwellings laid out over four levels. Neil’s 350m² home is set to the back of the property and spans three storeys, with a glass conservatory-style kitchen on the first floor that boasts a walk-in pantry and fridge, as well as a scullery.
Off the kitchen are the open-plan living and dining areas, which lead onto a leafy sunken courtyard complete with a natural swimming pool and vertical garden-cum-water feature.
Since the abodes share a level where both living spaces coexist, privacy was a big issue. ‘If there was one thing we were concerned about, it was how to separate the outdoor areas of the two homes,’ says Bosch. ‘We threw many ideas around until we decided to use a screen that I had initially designed as a balustrade for my own home.’ Opaque glass panels were added to maintain the flow of light, at the same time ensuring that both dwellings retained their privacy.
Neil’s home is also very much a family space where he catches up with his grown-up children. The first floor houses two en suite bedrooms, with the balcony room allocated to Neil’s daughter, Jordan Alexandra, and the twin bedroom next door reserved for his son, Tyler Hope. ‘When my son first saw the house, I knew that we had done something right because he beamed from ear to ear,’ says Neil.
‘Jordie, on the other hand, was a regular visitor during the building process.’ Occupying the entire top level is Neil’s bedroom suite, which includes a dressing room and large shower area, and affords wide vistas of the Twelve Apostles mountain range and Bakoven beach.
‘The Camps Bay area is full of amazing white-washed villas with large panes of glass all designed to take in the panoramas of the Atlantic,’ says Neil. ‘The only problem is that come late afternoon, the entire house has to be closed up to keep the interior spaces cool.’ Using concrete, wood and stone, Neil and Bosch have created a calm oasis in which natural light pours in through the conservatory and at night, dimmable LED lighting adds another dimension to the space.
‘This project has changed me and I like that,’ says Neil. ‘Often I’ll be downstairs when I’ll suddenly realise that there’s magic happening over the ocean, and I’ll nip up to see the sun setting on the horizon – like a firecracker leaving its mark.’ The same could well be said for this house.