Plantation Road: A Yin and Yang in City Living
Boarding the city edge and mountain, this Cape Town abode's split personality is more than just a product of its environment.
Ever heard that thing that people say about not taking your work home with you? Stephen Hitchcock and David Long of Stretch Architects are certainly not those people.
In 2015, the friends and business partners were facing the same dilemma – both wanted to move their families into Cape Town’s City Bowl but both were impeded by prohibitive property prices. ‘We were determined to find a way to live in the city and the only way to do that was to share space,’ says Stephen.
So when a little sliver of a plot in Vredehoek became available – situated at the foot of Table Mountain, and overlooking the city and Cape Town’s harbour beyond the scenic Philip Kgosana Drive – it was, as David says, ‘a no-brainer’.
While budget constraints prevailed, it was no student digs that the two architects, both family men, set out to construct.
The plan was to build boundary-to-boundary, creating one house that would function as two homes: Stephen’s abode for himself, wife and one-year-old son, and David’s home with his wife and two children, aged three and one.
‘From the outside, it’s one facade, but internally it’s split down the middle, almost like two Amsterdam-style row houses – both very narrow and set over three levels, with a lot of stairs,’ says Stephen.
It’s a multifunctional space shaped as much by practicality as it is by ingenuity.
‘The design was completely driven by the restrictions we had – building line restrictions, fire regulations, space, budget – and that’s what makes for interesting architecture,’ he explains.
‘On a very limited budget, you have to get creative to find ways to still employ good architecture within these constraints. It’s then that you figure out things you wouldn’t otherwise have done, because you’re forced to flip ideas over and rethink them in new ways. The house also afforded us the opportunity to experiment a fair amount,’ says David.
‘We did a lot of things we had never done before, that we probably wouldn’t have tried with clients. It gave us more freedom. Often, as architects, we design spaces that we never get to live in. Living in this house now, though, we have moments when we think, “Ha, we thought this was going to be good, but it’s even better than we’d hoped for.'"
Step inside Stretch Architects' Plantation Road home in the video below:
While the two designed the external facade together, beyond the side-by-side entrances, their individual needs at the time resulted in different interpretations of the internal space. ‘Space’ is the keyword here and, much like their budget – and, indeed, their company name – the design lay in stretching the space as far as it would go. For Stephen, this meant utilising every available inch and beyond – even the house’s sweeping city and mountain views are cleverly framed by generous windows and skylights to constantly draw your gaze beyond the enclosing walls.
‘We used a lot of built-in furniture to make the most of compact areas,’ he says.
‘The more you can affix, the easier it is to use every inch. We also played around with the staircases – usually staircases take up a massive amount of space, but because ours are made out of bent steel, they’re only about 8mm thick, and so we created pockets of space underneath and around them.’
Moving into the outside areas – even these, verging as they do on a busy road below and rugged mountain slopes above, are carefully considered.
‘It was important to create a connection to some kind of a garden because we’re directly next to the road, so we planted trees and attached planters to all the facades. Over time, they’ll grow dense enough to visually remove the road. Our landscape architect friend Wallace Honiball helped us select fynbos endemic to Table Mountain, so that our home becomes an extension of what’s growing behind it – as well as a constantly changing visual offering to the people travelling in and out of the city.’
‘I’ve always liked the idea of a home that can be extremely open and connected, yet still allow for privacy,’ explains David of his half of the house.
He considers nothing to be one of his home’s greatest luxuries – quite literally.
‘We created a vertical connection with a void that spans all three levels. I can have a conversation from the ground floor with my wife in the bedroom upstairs. The void also serves to allow natural light in through a skylight on the roof. All the rooms connect to it via large sliding doors. When the doors are open, one room flows very easily into the next room, with the visual connection making each room feel larger than it actually is. So the doors are more like large, moveable walls.’ The key, he says, is that in a small space you have to be generous – with floor-to-ceiling heights, natural light and windows. ‘The space feels bigger and luxurious, not because of plush finishes and furniture, but through space, volume and light.’
The finishes throughout the two homes are intentionally modest.
‘The external walls are unplastered and unpainted, so the building weathers interestingly and changes colour when it rains – which we like. Inside, we have more unplastered walls, exposed timber beams, and no ceiling – it’s all really stripped down to bare bones, but it works,’ says David. ‘For example, we wanted timber floors and thought, ‘Pine is cheap, good and sustainable; let’s do it in pine.’ That was the end of the decision and we never had to revisit it. There’s a nice correlation between a material that performs well and is also affordable – which resonates with us.’
Both Stephen and David are adamant that it’s not just in Cape Town’s trendiest neighbourhoods that spaces need to stretch to accommodate a new, more communal way of living. As Stephen says, ‘We’re living in a time where living on huge plots of wasted suburban space is not really possible – and to be honest, nor is it desirable any more. We really need to take a hard look at that and find ways to retrofit old buildings to get more people in, or use land more sparingly, but in a way that is still well considered and designed well.’
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On living so closely together, there is a mutual agreement between the both Stephen and David that it creates a new social dynamic and, in essence, a mirco-community.
‘We designed the house to function so that you don’t have to be friends with your neighbour,’ adds David. ‘But we think it’s a great way to live. Both our front doors are often open.’