Exploring the Cape West Coast, the last thing you expect to see in the dusty fynbos is an expanse of calm blue water. But there it is: Langebaan Lagoon. It’s home to a flock of flamingos, and buck and bat-eared foxes frolic in the spring bloom when the West Coast National Park opens its famous Postberg Reserve. The lagoon opens into the curving sweep of Saldanha Bay, and it’s there, on the edge of the beach, that Marc de Fondaumiere suggested to his interior designer wife Carla, of GDF Design Lab, that they create their holiday house.
‘I used to holiday here as a kid,’ she says. ‘First in a beached houseboat, with Christmas spent camping on the beach, and then in Langebaan itself. Lots of happy memories.’
What they had in mind was a house that looked as if it had always been there. ‘We were living in Joburg at the time and I didn’t want a Joburg-style house on the beach,’ says Carla. ‘Holiday homes should be a break from one’s living norm. This was my brief to architect Barry Gould: the West Coast environment is harsh and the light intense, so materials must be able to weather and get better with age. I wanted textured walls, high level windows and slatted screens, all used so that they manipulate and soften the light. Light is the fourth dimension in architecture!’
The house Gould produced was exactly what Carla wanted. It was not without challenges though. ‘The plot is long and narrow, with the narrow side facing the lagoon,’ he says. ‘And there’s a 4.1 metre height restriction on the lagoon, which is a good thing as it has preserved the fishing village feel.’ However, it made the project tricky, especially since the side walls of the houses abutted the boundary.
To accommodate 10 people, he created two buildings on either end of the plot, connected by an attractive courtyard. In the main house he sank the kitchen below ground level to create height for the master bedroom above. To bring in sunlight, he put wooden sliding doors along the passage next to the kitchen and the ground floor bedrooms, and massive wooden concertina doors along the edge of the stoep that opens on to the lagoon. An open terrace on the roof above the living area drinks in the view. Reached by an outside staircase, it’s the ideal spot for sundowners while keeping an eye on the kids on the beach below.
The lagoon is a tangible presence in the house. As you enter the courtyard from the street, its seductive blue waters are instantly visible through the open living room door. Inside, under the raw poplar beams of the high ceiling, the space flows onto a cane-roofed stoep with a slatted wooden wall. A path leads through the fynbos to the beach.
Light and natural-look wood create a harmonious balance and the attention to detail is apparent throughout. To make the most of one of the walls shared with the neighbours, for example, it’s clad with the area’s appealing pale calcite. Since this stone can look hard, Carla used white cement instead of grey to soften it. Polished concrete with marble chips, white cement on the floors and crushed beach shells on some of the walls add to the beach vibe. Ceilings are off-shutter concrete in white or slate grey.
Understated decor creates a soothing ambience. Windows and floors are unadorned, apart from the occasional shutters and rugs or natural-fibre matting. The furniture Carla has chosen looks and feels handcrafted. The stoep table is a slab of cracked French oak so massive it took six men to carry. The chairs, bar stools and standing lamps were created by local designers such as John Vogel and the duo Norman Meyer and Abrie von Wielligh, whose range Carla and her partner AJ Bell market and sell, and who work only in indigenous wood.
The result is a home away from home in which nothing jars with the beauty of the setting. Naturally Carla always wishes she could take it back to Cape Town with her.
This house is available to rent through Perfect Hideaways.
This article was originally published in HL December 2016