houses

West Coast Beach House

Text Deborah Louw Styling Jeanne Botes Photographs Naashon Zalk You would probably expect the seaside holiday home of one of South Africa’s top flooring designers to be an explosion of colour and dazzling design, with all things bright and busy adorning every corner of every room. After all, Pierre Antoine – dynamic weaver, textile conservator, rug designer and owner of Fibre Designs – is well known for his creative custom-woven rug collections, which grace corporate, commercial, hospitality and private spaces throughout SA and beyond. What you find in this Britannia Bay house two hours from Cape Town, on a curve of the bay between Paternoster and St Helena Bay, is something quite different. Almost subdued, the house is an unobtrusive glass-and-wood edifice with a light presence, blending quietly into its West Coast environment of dune, fynbos and shore. The brief to architect Johan du Toit five years ago was twofold: first, the house had to be built within the constraints of the Britannia Bay development, which, although not overly prescriptive, did specify that all exteriors were to be painted white and roofing options limited to thatch, painted corrugated sheeting or wood in keeping with the West Coast vernacular. Secondly, Pierre wanted to create a house that didn’t really require interior decor at all. ‘The sand, the fynbos, the light and the sea – they are the decor!’ he says. And so huge glass sliding doors and skylights were installed throughout to incorporate those elements as expansively as possible into the home. Framing the views are massive ceiling beams in dark-stained pine (deliberately non-planed for a more rugged, natural effect). The interior is addressed in a monochromatic palette of cream, white and sand: bright colours, says Pierre, would detract from the striking beauty of the natural surrounds. (In his professional life he shows similar sensitivity to the architectural and decor elements of his clients’ spaces. ‘I don’t want to create something that fights with the pieces around it,’ he says.) Even the artworks, gathered on his trips to Zimbabwe and the Levubu Valley in SA’s Limpopo province, seem to enhance the moody calm. Ceramics by local artists Noria Mbasa and Sarah Munyai, and wooden sculptures by John Baloyi and Jackson Hlungwane complement the textured hand-woven rugs made to Pierre’s designs. There’s an enormous central living area, flanked by a compact kitchen space – ‘the heart of this home’ – which boasts all the usual kitchen mod cons and has steel counter tops ‘because they’re hardy and not precious,’ says Pierre. Opposite, a long, low wooden bench running the length of the room hides storage space for board games, beach bats, kids’ colouring books, a wine fridge and general beach-holiday paraphernalia. And, to take account of the vagaries of West Coast weather, there’s a second culinary option: an indoor gas barbecue, ‘so that we never have to forgo the great South African tradition of having a braai, even when it’s stormy or windy outside’. One of the home’s ‘soft spots’ is the hallway outside the master bedroom – it’s both a reminder of, and a tribute to, Pierre’s heritage (he was born and spent his early childhood in what was then the Belgian Congo). On one wall, which he had carefully made to measure, hangs a unique collection of Katanga-copper tiles, each made by a different Congolese artist yet combining to form a stunning aesthetic whole. Adding to the reference is a Katanga cross and a rug of Congolese design made up by Pierre. The master bedroom itself, with its wall-to-wall glass sliding doors, seems almost to drift out to sea. Although there is a shower here (and in all the en-suite bathrooms and on the wooden decks outside), it’s the bath in a corner of the room that has a special allure. ‘There’s nothing more sensual than sliding open the glass doors, switching off the lights and relaxing in the tub overlooking the waves,’ says Pierre. ‘I feel as though I’m bathing in the ocean.’ So why the West Coast? ‘It’s more “true” – it has largely escaped the commercialism of places like Hermanus. I can be right on the beach here with its unspoilt, unfettered proximity to the sea. It’s perfect, despite the freezing water…’ Fibre Designs, fibredesigns.co.za.  

Pierre's Home Truths

My favourite spot in the house is on the Indian mattress in the corner of the living area, early in the morning, from where I enjoy the view across the bay. Dolphins playing in the waves, partridges and duikers in the fynbos, exquisite light… When I’m here I relax by cooking. Friends and family all pile in and it’s La Grande Bouffe– noisily extravagant eating and drinking, all trying to outdo one another. When I’m in the city I go to the gym every day for ‘mania management’! My favourite getaways are to the bush, often in Botswana. Or I go for a cultural experience somewhere, for the galleries, architecture and history. Next up is Tuscany – Siena is an extraordinary place. My special luxury here is that all the showers have hot water, even the three outside ones. One of the great things about the house is that it’s a good place to be alone in, and yet it ‘expands’ to sleep up to 25 over the holidays.   This article originally appeared in the November 2010 issue of House and Leisure.