Written By Graham Wood
Photographed By Greg Cox
This thatched riverside holiday home in the surfer’s mecca of St Francis Bay in South Africa puts a series of simple barn-like buildings in the service of the ultimate relaxing family holiday experience.
There is a term that almost every surfer knows, which was coined in the South African coastal town of Cape St Francis: “The perfect wave”. The classic 1966 surf film The Endless Summer followed two American surfers around the world in their quest to find every surfer’s holy grail. They found it in Cape St Francis, peeling away endlessly along a deserted strip of paradisiacal beach in the Eastern Cape. A voice over by awestruck narrator and filmmaker Bruce Brown intones over the 16mm hand-held camera footage: “I couldn’t help but think of the hundreds of years these waves must have been breaking here. But until this day, no one had ever ridden one.”
Since then, Cape St Francis’s waves haven’t been neglected, and the town has grown to become more than just a surf destination, but it still retains that mythic charm. South African-born Fiona Ferguson has the happiest memories of family holidays spent in the adjoining marina, St Francis Bay, on the Kromme River, as a child. Its idyllic setting with beautiful canals and wide river seems to represent nature at its best.
The gravel entrance courtyard from the street-facing side of the house creates a sense of arrival. The low curved white wall and thatch roofs are reminiscent of traditional Cape Dutch farm architecture. “I tried to reinforce that by referencing certain traditional elements, but reinterpreting them in a contemporary manner. The low werf muur with its wooden gate surrounds the entrance courtyard with its welcoming scale,” says architect Bert Pepler.
The bathrooms are an interesting mix of modern and traditional design features, predominantly in white and brass, but the overriding characteristic is simplicity. Contemporary hexagonal tiles contrast with the traditional basins. The sense of luxury comes from the light and space.” Each bathroom opens onto a private, planted courtyard with an outdoor shower. “Besides the vanity mirrors, for the main bathroom we also designed an over-sized round mirror,” says Bert. “When you enter the bathroom, it reflects the planting in the courtyard and makes the space feel bigger and lighter.” From the courtyard of the main en suite bathroom, a door opens onto the garden and a path leads down to the beach, which makes it possible to come directly from the river and to shower before entering the house. The round tray table is a converted Ethiopian tray table, available from Toguna.
Looking over the swimming pool, the views of the river from the outside dining area are spectacular: a good example of the “connection from the land to the water” that Bert speaks of. The dune forest vegetation from next door has been reinforced and extended so that it spills over into this garden and creates a borrowed view. The swimming pool features long, low, gently curving white walls. “We wanted the pool to feel like an old reservoir, but in addition to relate to the curves of the house,” says Bert. Even the pool functions as an outdoor seating area, with a built-in seat at one end where one can lounge while interacting with others, whether they’re spread across the pool, on the deck or under the thatch covered terrace. The poolside furniture includes woven poolside ottomans by Fibre Designs and Instomi Sun Loungers by Meyer Von Wielligh. The furniture on the deck includes moulded plastic chairs and a coffee table from the Stones Collection by Vondom.
The main living area is open and relaxed. “The beams and the ceilings are all poplar, with a light grey wash. When you’re inside the house, the roof is reminiscent of an inverted boat hull,” says Bert. He points out that the roof is a complex piece of engineering, which necessitated steel tie rods, some of which are used to mount lights. The large, barn-like living and dining pavilion connects with the outside courtyards via the sliding glass doors, while the sliding timber shutters help contain the space and make it feel solid and secure when called for. The traditional solid gable is replaced by the light, slatted, aluminium screens, which allow sunlight to filter through during the day, but still provide a sense of containment to the living areas behind. At night, the illuminated interior renders the gables transparent, showcasing the timber roof structure inside.
Above the dining room table, by Egg Design, the Large Cork Pendant lights are by Laurie Wiid van Heerden of Wiid Design. “The space was so big it needed something to ground it,” say Carla and AJ. In the lounge, the Zio lounge Chair, the Cocktail Chair, the Cloud Sofa, all by Marcel Wanders, and The Pig Table by Front, are from Moooi. The coffee table is from Minotti’s Sullivan family of coffee tables designed by Rodolfo Dordon. The Gyro SE turntable is by Michell Engineering, available at The Listening Room. The Flokati rug was brought in from Greece to introduce a relaxed, unstructured element to the room. The Big Sweat standing lamp is by Dokter and Misses. Architect Bert Pepler designed the brass fireplace with beautiful dovetail joint details. Brass has also been used for the ironmongery and taps throughout the house, contrasting luxuriously with the neutral wood surfaces.
The kitchen features the same light oak that has been used for interior finishes throughout the house, while the taps and handles are brass. “I really wanted to keep everything light, consistently using a limited pallet of materials to create a cohesive whole,” says Bert. The neutral kitchen forms the backdrop for the island unit. “The central island unit is purple, and with its unsealed brass top is the focus of the room,” says Bert. “When the drawers are opened, the orange interior provides an element of surprise and a sense of fun.” The industrial-inspired V19R Dining Stools by Nuevo add a hint of a steam punk aesthetic to the kitchen. The chandelier, salvaged from a previous house, is a tongue-in-cheek touch “in defiance of all the other good taste” as Fiona puts it.
The dining area includes a long bespoke dining table by Egg Design. The Large Cork Pendant lights are by Laurie Wiid van Heerden of Wiid Design. The dining chairs are elegant but durable Kristalia Elephant Chairs with wooden bases. “The broad, oak plank flooring is saw-cut and creates a relaxed feeling, reminiscent of a weathered barn,” says Bert. With the doors and screens aside, you have a strong sense in this room of how the interiors connect with the courtyards. “All the doors and shutters slide away into cavities” says Bert, “On a beautiful still day, when all the doors are open, the structures feel like a series of thatched pavilions allowing the seamless free flow of movement from inside to out.” The long, barn-shaped forms telescope the eye towards the views of the river. “Although I wanted a sense of lightness,” says Bert, “I wanted the structure to feel robust and organic.” The solid over-sized Bluegum columns and the unevenly planed roof beams reinforce this concept.
The roof continues beyond the end of the living and dining areas to create a sheltered outdoor seating area. On the left, the sliding shutters open from the TV lounge allowing access to this space. This is an example of how the form of the house provides wind protection. “The main bedroom wing shelters the outdoor space from the westerly wind providing a perfectly protected outdoor room for entertaining,” says Bert. The outdoor sofas, which look out over the garden, are by Meyer Von Wielligh. “We did the Malawi chairs in great colours,” says Carla. The Mood Coffee table with stone grey and white trespa top is from Manutti. The Soma planter by Laurie Wiid van Heerden of Wiid Design combines lightweight moulded reinforced concrete with timber. The Langazela cushions are handcrafted for Africa!Ignite from recycled corn bags. The outdoor rug is from The Verandah Collection by Fibre Designs.
Two of the bedrooms have loft spaces where friends and cousins can easily be packed in. The window seats double as beds for additional sleeping space. Fiona says the boys love sleeping up in the lofts, especially when they have friends over. Bert designed the built-in bed unit with its retro reference as well as the honeycomb shelves above the kitchenette in the outside guest bedroom. The lamps are wall-mounted Type 75 Mini lamps by Artemide. In corner, the Slump Chair is by Egg Design. The throw is by Mungo, and the cushion fabric is Christopher Farr.