Surprisingly, it wasn’t only the location – fabled soft white sands set among boulders beneath a dramatic mountain backdrop – that appealed to India Baird when she first set eyes on this Llandudno cottage. It was also the light.
‘This house is bright, even on the wettest, darkest winter day, says the nomadic human rights lawyer from New York who first moved to Cape Town with her husband Peter 23 years ago, and has relocated back and forth several times. ‘The extraordinary light is one of the things I miss most when I leave Cape Town.’
The wood-panelled house was designed by a surfer who loved to entertain – rather like Peter Baird himself, who hops into the sea every day, no matter what the weather, when he’s not somewhere in Africa on business. Though it was built about 15 years ago, it still has a grittily contemporary feel, with exposed wooden ceiling trusses and generous amounts of glass revealing the spectacular scenery.
The ‘wow’ factor kicks in the minute you catch sight of that dark turquoise sea stretching to the horizon. It’s one of the reasons Llandudno is one of Cape Town’s most exclusive areas. The other is the fact that there are no shops here, or streetlights and commercial buildings. It’s a unique and stunning spot – a purely residential area nestled on the slopes beneath Little Lions Head and Judas Peak, and reached by one road only. In summer, India says, they open up the doors and windows and live outside.
Unlike some of the mansions built along this sought-after Atlantic seaboard, the Bairds’ home is not grandly imposing. Instead it radiates warmth. Filled with unusual objects gathered by this roving family during various missions abroad, it has soul. You feel it immediately. Before moving back to South Africa five years ago, they travelled around the world for a year looking for the perfect place to live. ‘We had sold, given away, or stored all of our possessions,’ says India. ‘We wanted to find a home that allowed us to continue living a simpler lifestyle, and Cape Town won.
‘Now the couple’s bedroom window allows them to check the surf conditions for Peter and the mountain conditions for India, a trail runner, without even getting out of bed. ‘We love falling asleep to the sound of the waves and watching the moonrise over the mountain or the sun set over the waves. Heaven,’ says India. She says most of their decor items tell a story about their past or hope for the future. The paintings are all by South African artists, while the photographs are by India or local and international photographers she’s worked with. The furniture and rugs were generally made for them, or found on one of their trips.
‘Our home contains things from around the world,’ she says, ‘as well as a few modern classics such as an Eames chair and Saarinen table, which I hope our children will pass on to their children one day. Given the extreme need of so many in South Africa and around the world, we try to keep our home simple, beautiful, and comfortable. It’s a haven, not a palace.’
Her daughter Talullah, nine, has her own secret nook. It’s one of Porky Hefer’s human nests and it hangs on the stoep. Talullah fell in love with it when she saw it in the designer’s studio one day when her mother was working with Porky on a project for Rock Girl, the organisation India founded to provide safe spaces for girls and women. ‘She wanted a tree house, but this is even better,’ India says. ‘It’s her own safe space to read and hang out with friends – something everyone needs.’
Talullah and her brother, Zola, 15, are now enjoying staying put in one place, especially since Llandudno is a favourite summer gathering spot for friends, and they can have dogs, two beloved Hungarian Vizslas Saffron and Zelda. ‘It’s a wonderful breed that is extremely family-friendly,’ says India. ‘Doesn’t shed, and loves to run and swim. Ideal dogs for our lifestyle and home!’
Originally published in HL December 2014