houses

Sleek Cape Town Home


When architect Bert Pepler first saw the empty plot of land on the lower slopes of Signal Hill in Cape Town’s Tamboerskloof he was struck by the spectacular view and the opportunity to capture it in every room of the house he was being asked to design. These views sweep from the harbour, across the City Bowl, to Lion’s Head and instantly made the idea of building on the erf a compelling one. ‘I loved the site irrespective of its size,’ says Bert of the dramatically sloping 438m² sliver of land, the product of a sub-division. He was more concerned about the ‘sun direction and the “tunnel vision” created by the structures on the adjoining sites’. The owners also wanted to keep the grove of wild olives growing on the lower portion of the property. As the brief was to create a three-bedroom home with a large living and dining space,the only solution was to go up. The home that Bert conceived proves that old axiom of awkward situations giving rise to the most creative solutions. He designed three virtually transparent containers, which he ‘staked’ to the furthest edge of the property to maximise the views. These spaces are accessed through a slender ‘spine’ building that joins the entrance and double garage, just off the road, to the rest of the home. Flanking this spine building, which contains a bedroom, bathroom and galley kitchen, are a pool and a large patio area. With the home and boundary wall completely surrounding it, the outside entertainment space is protected from Cape Town’s fickle winds at all times. Plus the openness of the home means that the views can still be enjoyed from the garden. Intersecting the main house on the middle – living – level, the entrance and kitchen areas both open into the dining and living room. Floor-to-ceiling sliding glass walls show off the views and, in the foreground, that preserved stand of wild olives, creating the impression of being in a tree house. On one side of this space a giant gas fireplace and concrete chimney ‘anchor’ it to the site. On the opposite wall light filters through a polycarbonate screen in front of the stairwell that leads to the upper and lower levels. Strip windows wrap around the room, allowing the ‘box’ above to appear as if it is floating. In the master suite, on the top level, giant sliding timber shutters can be rolled out in front of the balcony that runs the length of the space, making the room more private and offering protection against the southeaster. On humid summer evenings, they enable the owners to sleep with the glass doors wide open. When closed, these panels completely change the facade of the home, while still allowing sunlight to filter through. In fact, an ingenious system of sliding panels is a feature of the interior of the house, too, allowing the smaller spaces to be elegantly reconfigured when guests arrive. For example, on the lower level a guest suite and study area can be further separated by moving screens into place. This allows the owner to use the study area undisturbed while giving guests access to the garden, usually also accessible through the study. Ribbed polycarbonate shutters on this floor allow light to filter through the branches of the wild olives outside; the play of light and shadow can be quite effective. Deceptively simple, this home exemplifies clever use of space (even the kitchen roof has been turned into a terrace), feeling open while, at the same time, offering its occupants discrete areas in which to retreat. ‘It’s a great house to live in. Compact with sensory experiences,’ says Bert. ‘Like a sculpture, it’s a complete work; you cannot single out any particular aspect.’ Q&A WITH ARCHITECT BERT PEPLER What does luxury mean to you? It’s a sensory overload; the experience of comfort in an unexpected context. What inspires you? Life. Consciously and subconsciously, we are absorbing information all around us and distilling these into ideas that inspire us. Your favourite buildings? I've been following the exciting work coming out of Portugal, Spain and South America: buildings that are sculptural yet understated, with a refined palette of materials and an understanding of the environments they are placed within. Best piece of design advice? Ultimately it’s the simplest concept that’s going to succeed – keep purifying your design, honing in on the essence of the idea. Other local architects’ work you admire? I like Gabriel Fagan’s residential projects as well as the Baxter Theatre by Jack Barnett. This article was originally featured in the August 2012 issue of House and Leisure.