Cas­tle in the Sky

EL­E­VATED ON TONNES OF SOIL, THIS STUN­NING HOME IN CAPE TOWN FLOATS ABOVE ITS SUR­ROUND­ING VINE­YARDS AND THE MOUN­TAINS BEYOND

Singapore Tatler Homes - - JUN/JUL ISSUE -

Perched on an el­e­vated plot, this home in Cape Town floats above the sur­round­ing moun­tains and vine­yards

When Matt and Vic­to­ria Bresler first went to see the site of their house-to-be in the Con­stan­tia Val­ley, bor­der­ing Cape Town’s his­toric Groot Con­stan­tia wine es­tate, it was due to a pho­to­graph the hus­band had seen in the prop­erty pages of the news­pa­per, which showed three palm trees and a hint of vine­yard in the back­ground. “The house wasn’t even in the pho­to­graph,” he says—and when he got there, he sud­denly un­der­stood why not. “I spent two or three min­utes in­side the house and an hour on the roof, just look­ing at the view.”

START­ING ANEW

The cou­ple were set­tling in Cape Town with their three chil­dren: Jonty, Han­nah and Ol­lie. Af­ter a decade of work and travel abroad, they were look­ing for a new home. Bresler soon re­alised that to do jus­tice to those views, they would have to build from scratch. Built in the 1980s, the ex­ist­ing house was sunk low into the plot, with no views to speak of or with any sense of con­nec­tion to its re­mark­able set­ting, while trees and large bushes all along the fence cut the house off from its po­ten­tial views.

Ar­chi­tects Jan-heyn Vorster and Ti­aan Meyer de­signed the new house. Vorster says the sub­ur­ban vine­yard-side set­ting is “mag­nif­i­cent—and then, ob­vi­ously, the views of the moun­tain beyond are beau­ti­ful.” While it’s an acre (43,560sqft) in size, the stand forms an asym­met­ri­cal tri­an­gle, so it shares an un­usu­ally long 130-me­tre bor­der with the vine­yard. If the plot had been square, to find your­self with a bor­der of that length, Bresler ex­plains, “you’d nor­mally need four acres.”

EL­E­VATED PER­SPEC­TIVE

Be­fore they even con­sid­ered the de­sign of the house, Vorster and Meyer had to fig­ure out how to cre­ate the po­ten­tial views Bresler had be­gun to sense af­ter his rooftop ex­cur­sion. “We went to quite a bit of trou­ble dur­ing the plan­ning phase to as­sure we max­imised the home’s po­ten­tial for views,” re­calls Vorster. “Matt spent a lot of time on the old site on care­fully mea­sured lad­der rungs, sur­vey­ing views from a stand­ing and seated po­si­tion.” The so­lu­tion: to raise the level of the ground. “We brought in a lot of soil to bring the house up to a level that took full ad­van­tage of the vine­yard views,” says Vorster. At the same time, he was aware of how vi­tal it would be for the house to in­te­grate with its site. “You have to come up with clever land­scap­ing so­lu­tions to bring the site back up to the house so that it doesn’t feel like an apart­ment in the air and that it’s ac­tu­ally still a fam­ily home, with seam­less con­nec­tion to the gar­dens and pool.”

SCENIC STEPS

An ad­di­tional fac­tor was the aware­ness that peo­ple are al­lowed to walk in the vine­yards along the prop­erty’s edge. “It was also im­por­tant for the scale of the build­ing to be quite sen­si­tive,” says Vorster. They didn’t want to blight the set­ting with a self­ish lump on the land­scape, so they de­cided to set the house as far back on the stand as they could. From the back of the house, it ap­pears as a dou­ble-storey; from the vine­yards, how­ever, it’s a long, low-slung, ground-hug­ging form with two mono-pitch flip-up roofs over the liv­ing ar­eas. From the front door, you as­cend via a stair­case in a glass box. On the up­per level, the liv­ing ar­eas are to one side and the bed­room wing to the other. The stair­way cre­ates a kind of pro­ces­sion, as Vorster puts it. “The build­ing cre­ates views—mo­ments when you

pause to turn and look back,” he ex­plains. “The sea is seen to the south over False Bay as you as­cend the stairs and the beau­ti­ful, nat­u­ral­is­tic gar­dens come right up to the house. Once you’ve reached the top of the stairs, the house’s ex­pan­sive vista to the north, over the vine­yards to­wards the moun­tains, re­veals it­self. The el­e­vated po­si­tion­ing means you get no sense of this set­ting when you first ar­rive, so it’s of­ten quite a sur­prise for guests.”

MA­TE­RIAL DE­TAILS

An off-shut­ter con­crete wall is the most de­fin­i­tive ar­chi­tec­tural fea­ture here. “Lots of ef­fort went into get­ting that wall beau­ti­fully cast, us­ing sand-blasted spruce to im­part a wood-grain fin­ish to the con­crete,” says Vorster, adding that the ma­te­ri­als used in the house were im­por­tant through­out. Much of the fa­cade at the back of the house is clad in western red cedar, while in­side, the con­crete of the ceil­ings, pil­lars and ring­beams is soft­ened with wood—in­clud­ing the

solid oak floor­ing, the cedar ceil­ings of the an­gled roofs in the liv­ing ar­eas and much of the in­te­rior oak join­ery. Un­treated cedar, which weath­ers to grey over time, is also used for slat­ted en­trance gates, win­dow screens, the front door and the per­gola. “It was Vic­to­ria’s idea to de­sign be­spoke win­dow fa­cades made en­tirely of cedar for the chil­dren’s bed­rooms,” says Bresler.

ROOMS WITH VIEWS

The north-fac­ing as­pect of the house (to­ward the vine­yards) is mostly glass. Its two flip-up roofs im­part a sense of char­ac­ter, while the bed­room wing is an­gled in­ward to hug the gar­dens. The bed­rooms form a stepped, zig-zag ar­range­ment to al­low for views in two di­rec­tions, and to catch the light from both the north­ern and western sun­set. This idea came from Bresler’s brother-in­law dur­ing a site visit in the plan­ning phase. The bed­room wing is flat-roofed, which makes it less con­spic­u­ous, and it floats on a raised plat­form. Mean­while, be­low the liv­ing ar­eas, the ground drops away more rad­i­cally— the ar­chi­tects used this “nat­u­ral void” and pop­u­lated it with the guest suite, wine cel­lar, staff ac­com­mo­da­tion and var­i­ous ser­vices, in­clud­ing garages.

MOD­ERN CHAR­AC­TER

The in­te­ri­ors es­sen­tially form an­other layer of the ar­chi­tec­ture, rather than func­tion­ing merely as con­tain­ers for fur­ni­ture. “You can’t sep­a­rate the in­te­rior de­sign and the ar­chi­tec­ture from each other,” says Vorster. “From the be­gin­ning, we con­sid­ered how the ar­chi­tec­ture and fixed fur­nish­ings would con­nect and fit to­gether.” For ex­am­ple, the unit be­tween the kitchen and the liv­ing space is an ex­ten­sion of the ar­chi­tec­ture, con­ceal­ing a TV and a fire­place, and the other side forms a cof­fee sta­tion in­clud­ing the cou­ple’s col­lec­tion of espresso cups. “The build­ing was ba­si­cally quite neu­tral,” says Vorster. “The fur­ni­ture, fur­nish­ings, dec­o­ra­tions and art is where there is dis­tinct char­ac­ter and colour.” This in­cludes lo­cal de­sign, much of it in­flu­enced by Mid-cen­tury Mod­ernism, such as the so­fas, cof­fee ta­ble and din­ing room ta­ble from Mez­za­nine In­te­ri­ors in Johannesburg. There are also some re­fur­bished vin­tage items, much of which is also made with nat­u­ral wood. “I guess we like clean lines and Scandi stuff,” says Bresler, who is quick to point out that he is by no means a min­i­mal­ist. On ex­ten­sive trav­els in his 20s and early 30s, he al­ways filled his back­pack with care­fully se­lected arte­facts, such as masks, stat­ues and other items unique to the coun­tries he vis­ited. “It has been chal­leng­ing—but fun—to try and bal­ance my

de­sire to dis­play these hard-sought, mem­ory-steeped items with our de­sire for a min­i­mal­ist look,” says Bresler. “I wanted to dis­play the things that I love and feel pas­sion­ate about.” He and Vic­to­ria have also col­lected art and arte­facts on their trav­els to­gether. “For ex­am­ple, we now have a set of 14 lit­tle etch­ings in the pas­sage­way,” he says. “There was a great deal of sat­is­fac­tion that we both got from pulling those out of boxes, agree­ing on the fram­ing, then hang­ing and en­joy­ing them.”

PLANT­ING LIFE

Out­side, the land­scap­ing and plant­ing help to blend the house, its land­scape and its views. “I think what’s ac­tu­ally key to the suc­cess of the whole build­ing is the in­te­gra­tion with the land­scape and the land­scape de­sign,” says Vorster. “It would have been a very dif­fer­ent build­ing if that wasn’t as well-re­solved.” Land­scape de­signer Mary Mau­rel worked closely with the cou­ple on the plant­ing, first by re­mov­ing trees and other vege­ta­tion on the bor­der that blocked the view to the vine­yard. She de­vised a lay­ered ap­proach with nat­u­ral­is­tic gar­dens around the house, pro­gress­ing via a wide-open lawn to a fyn­bos bed along the bor­der. This ap­proach cre­ates gen­tle tran­si­tions from ar­chi­tec­ture to land­scape, and clev­erly blurs the bound­aries be­tween the prop­erty and the vine­yards, bor­row­ing the ex­ten­sive views. “It re­ally some­times feels as if the vine­yard be­longs to this prop­erty,” says Vorster. A pas­sion­ate plants­man, Bresler brought in more than 200 trees, both in­dige­nous and ex­otic, with a fo­cus on pro­lif­i­cally flow­er­ing trees. “I’ve brought in many saplings from trips abroad and am cur­rently rear­ing from seed some of the ex­cit­ing species I can’t find in the coun­try,” he says. There’s also a gate in the fence lead­ing di­rectly onto the vine­yards, so the cou­ple can walk their dogs there. When Bresler goes jog­ging in the vine­yards, he al­ways slows to a walk for the 130-me­tre stretch bor­der­ing his prop­erty so he can take a good look at the gar­dens and the house through the Clearvu fence. “When I’m not fo­cused on some weeds that need re­mov­ing, I feel a great sense of pride.”

LEFT TO RIGHT

To take ad­van­tage of the spec­tac­u­lar set­ting, the level of the ground was raised and the home was re­built from scratch; the fam­ily of five pic­tured at the en­trance of their abode

ABOVE

Touches of yel­low ac­ces­sories and fur­ni­ture en­liven the liv­ing area

OP­PO­SITE PAGE

The glass stair­way of­fers beau­ti­ful views of the boun­ti­ful green­ery that sur­rounds the home

BE­LOW AND OP­PO­SITE PAGE

The con­crete fea­tured on ceil­ings, pil­lars and ring-beams is soft­ened with wood fur­nish­ings

LEFT

The stun­ning views of the sur­round­ing moun­tains and vine­yards drew the own­ers to their present home

THIS PAGE Cu­rios col­lected by the well­trav­elled cou­ple add char­ac­ter to liv­ing spa­ces

OP­PO­SITE PAGE The bed­room wing is built to hug the gar­den while let­ting in as much nat­u­ral light as pos­si­ble, from two di­rec­tions

OP­PO­SITE PAGE The fam­ily loves the wide-open lawn and the gar­dens, which fea­ture a mix of over 200 lo­cal and ex­otic trees

THIS PAGE The nat­u­ral­is­tic gar­dens and large glass doors blur the bound­aries be­tween the home and the neigh­bour­ing vine­yards

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