‘Some of our friends thought we were mad when we told them our plans for the house in Hout Bay,’ says Nicole Brunda-Cloete of the Hout Bay, Cape Town, home she shares with her husband Herman and their three children – John-Paul (19), Jamaica (17) and Angelique (11) – three dogs and three cats. Rather than a single homestead, it is spread out almost like a village or an African kraal, interspersed with intimate courtyards and koi-filled ponds. There’s even a mini beach, with palm tree, deck chairs and Balinese umbrellas.
As wildlife filmmakers, Nicole and Herman’s office is wherever the job takes them. They viewed the Hout Bay plot during a brief stay in Cape Town while they were based in India filming the dolphins in the River Ganges. Although it was set up against the northern slopes of Table Mountain, the light and views were blotted out by sky-high blue gums. Undeterred, they bought it that very afternoon.
The couple had a shared vision. Out of all the many countries that have inspired them, it was Bali that they wanted to come home to. ‘We were sitting in a restaurant with a bottle of wine and we started drawing a plan,’ says Herman. They still have the serviette that they sketched on. ‘We knew the feel that we wanted, but we didn’t know how to put it together.’
That’s where architect Paolo Deliperi stepped in, and the ‘kraal’ concept was born. ‘It’s like lots of small buildings that are all interconnected,’ he explains. Public and private areas are roughly divided with all four bedrooms (there’s a downstairs ‘cottage’, too) on one side of the property and living areas on the other. The children’s bedrooms are like mini Balinese villas, each decorated in its own style, with indoor and outdoor showers. Climb up a ladder and you’re in a loft-style living area with doors that lead onto a communal roof garden. The main bedroom, Nicole’s ‘oasis’ complete with its own living area, is right at the end of the house.
All the glass doors (some an enormous three-metres high) slide back into the walls, so that in summer the house opens up. ‘The courtyards are treated like rooms left open to the sky,’ explains Paolo. Nicole compares it to being in ‘an amphitheatre, with the view pouring into every room’.
The design involves a complex interplay of the four elements. ‘You’ve got water and five fireplaces,’ says Paolo. ‘The courtyards are related to the open air, and then the earth is how the house is grounded on the land.’ There’s also a fire pit that extends out into the pool, so fire and water can exist side by side. Nicole describes how they light it in the evening, have a last dip in the pool and then lie around the fire.
The earth element also comes through in the use of stone and wood in the design. The stonemason sourced the rock for the fireplaces and exterior from around the property, and Herman, a cameraman by trade, made the floorboards himself from the mountainous piles of felled blue gums. Nicole thought he was joking when he suggested it. He then moved on to furniture: among other pieces he crafted the imposing outside table from the trunk of the largest tree that once stood in the middle of the property.
The house is always full, says Nicole cheerfully, showing the walk-in fridge that is filled on a Friday and empty by Sunday. Unsurprisingly, the home is a magnet for their children’s friends. Not that you’d notice. ‘I thought that they had left home but they’re still here,’ Herman jokes. ‘Every two weeks you bump into one!’
But that’s testimony to the way that the house accommodates a tumble of barking dogs, and an ebb and flow of teenagers, while maintaining privacy for all and its Zen quality both inside and out. ‘People didn’t think it was possible to achieve what we have with this house,’ says Herman. ‘But we did it.’