Nine years ago a lunch at Haute Cabrière in Franschhoek ended memorably for a holidaying family from England. Derek Priestley, his son Roderick and younger daughter Joanne spotted a ‘plot for sale’ sign on the road; piqued, they turned into eco estate Fransche Hoek for a look. The family members, some of whom work in property, ended up buying ‘an absolute cracker of a plot’, as project manager Pete Jordan of Property Development Projects puts it. Surrounded by mountains, fynbos and vineyards, their acre is set above a dam with a goose-bump-inducing view down the green sweep of the valley – a dream location for three generations to connect as a family after a busy year in Europe.
Caribbean hotel Amanyara – where they’d stayed in linked pods with a central hub – inspired the home’s design, a collaboration between Stefan Antoni Olmesdahl Truen Architects (SAOTA) and Richard Townsend of Townsend & Associates Architects (TAARCH).
‘It talks about people having their own individuality and space,’ says Pete, ‘but the whole house is built around the concept of living and being together.’
In December 2013, after two years of work, their home – a thoroughly modern take on the kraal concept styled in the contemporary Cape vernacular – was ready. The H-shaped structure comprises five units linked to a central living area and patio with glassed-in walkways that hold a collection of local art. There is also a self-contained flat for seclusion-seeking visitors.
Each pod has a primary and secondary bedroom with en suite bathrooms, plus day beds for guests. The main entrance leads into the home’s heart, a 35m L-shaped living and dining zone with a fireplace, striking Weylandts Root table and 18-seat Pierre Cronje table. Outside, the range of communal spaces – pool, braai area, fireplace and three decks (oriented so that at least one is wind free at any time) – is a reason the family members seldom leave the property. ‘Even in the exterior spaces you can either be together or apart,’ says Pete. ‘It’s so big but it works so well.’
Built on cantilevered slabs of concrete, the home is indeed grand, with 1 800m² under the roof and a 2 500m² area including the covered patio space. To maximise its connection with the outdoors Richard incorporated glass doors that fold into walkway wall spaces and, in the bathrooms, American shutters that slide back to allow for long baths spent gazing at the mountains.
Each pod is tailored to its occupants: Derek has a study; his elder daughter’s sons have a TV room. For Audrey Jordan of Decorating Solutions the task was to accommodate four different personalities. Although a common neutral colour scheme flows throughout, the family members introduced ‘different handwriting’ to their pods with mosaics, art, cushions, bed linen, lamps and other accessories. The surroundings provided visual inspiration, from the silhouettes of proteas to the colours of fynbos, clay bricks and rocks.
Functionally the home takes a bow to green living. ‘The family, Rod in particular, asked us to look for opportunities to make the house eco-friendly wherever possible,’ says Pete. LED lights are used throughout, an extensive dual insulation system was installed in the ceiling voids and water is heated by eight solar geysers. Instead of concrete retention walls behind the house, 120m of gabion wall – local stones packed into mesh baskets – were built. The garden, fynbos with indigenous cynodon lawn, requires no watering.
Holidays here are spent swimming, reading on the deck, taking walks and bike rides into the mountains and having friends over for leisurely lunches. From every point there’s a view to write home about, especially when the mountains are painted evening lilac and the outside lights flicker on, framing the house in the dusk. It’s a family’s African dream come to life.
Property Development Projects, propertydevelopmentprojects.com; SAOTA, saota.com; TAARCH, taarch.com; Decorating Solutions – Audrey Jordan, decoratingsolutions.co.za; Cape Contours Landscape Solutions, capecontours.co.za.
Originally published in HL January/February 2016