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Point of view

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Cape Town’s Atlantic Seaboard has become a showcase for the distinctive designs of Stefan Antoni Olmesdahl Truen Architects. One of the latest additions to their portfolio is 1815 Head Road, a house precariously perched on the slopes of Lion’s Head.

Oblique shafts of mid-morning sunlight flood the living area. Although it’s the middle of winter, the floor-to-ceiling glass doors have been stacked away to reveal an artful mobile seascape as ships and freight carriers slowly trek across the blue horizon. To the right, the western coastline embraces the Atlantic, with Robben Island in the foreground and the tower blocks of Sea Point down below.

This is what seduced the young couple when they decided to return to Cape Town after seven years in Johannesburg: the view. “Framing this view became the whole concept for the house. It changes every minute of the day and is so breathtaking that you can’t really compete with it,” say the owners.

Philip Olmesdahl of Stefan Antoni Olmesdahl Truen Architects (SAOTA) concurs: “The property has the fantastic dual aspects of views towards the north and west over Fresnaye and beyond on the horizon, as well as to the south up the mountain – the view was the primary driver for the design.”

The best of the area
Head Road is a recent addition to the town plan and is accessed from Top Road, which – as its name suggests – was historically the highest road in Fresnaye. Despite the steep slope and particular zoning regulations, which include a 6,7m height restriction, the site offers the best of the area – unparalleled views, of course, but also protection from the southeaster. The due-north orientation means it gets loads of natural light minus the severe glare that many of the houses in Clifton and Camps Bay have to endure.

The brief to the architects was simple: a three-storey house with separate guest quarters and a strong masculine aesthetic.

Philip took advantage of the ideal orientation for passive climate control.

Sun angles were carefully considered during the design, with well-integrated sunscreens and adequate overhangs keeping direct sunlight at bay in summer while allowing the lower angle of the sun in winter to warm up the spaces. The western glass facade is protected from the harsh afternoon sun by a freestanding concrete wall.

The sophisticated home automation system further complements the passive measures. Motorised blinds open and close depending on the time of day as well as the room temperature, which has been so effective that they hardly ever have to resort to using air conditioning.

To overcome the steep slope, tall concrete columns allow the house to float above the site, resulting in a light, vertiginous feel – almost as if it’s reaching out to the horizon.

Inside and out flow into each other
On the interior, floor-to-ceiling glass doors, frameless armour-plated glass balustrades and even a glass roof work together to blur the separation between inside and outside, giving spaces an expansive and unrestricted feeling.

In service of the view, the palette of finishes is limited: white for the walls with glass, stainless steel and polished granite ensuring uncluttered, refined spaces that reflect fragments of the blue yonder.

The white interior is also a nod to architect Richard Meier, the owners’ self-confessed architectural guru. “At the time, we had just returned from LA where we saw some of Richard Meier’s projects. We just love his work.”

Here, as in the work of Meier, white is never white but is subject to constant change through the forces of nature: the sky, the weather, the vegetation, the clouds and, of course, the light.

Both clients and architect also believe that finishes and detailing make an enormous contribution to the overall spatial experience. “We don’t believe in things that don’t have a purpose,” say the owners. “So instead of cluttering up a space with objects, the detailing becomes the decoration.”

But Philip admits that an unusual amount of dedication, patience and effort from all parties, including a very understanding client, are required to achieve this level of detailing and construction.

Spacial and aesthetic unity achieved
The firm responsible for the interior, In-Ex of Beverly Hills, also took this to heart. For example, the custom-made carpet in the living room lines up perfectly with the dimensions of the fireplace and the increments of the glass doors are repeated in the granite floor tiles to create a subtle rhythm.

Furniture pieces, which mirror the clean masculine lines of the architecture, were chosen, and some pieces were custom designed to achieve exacting proportions. The result is a spatial and aesthetic unity.

Asked where they most love to spend time, the owners say immediately: “This spot right here, where we can see Lion’s Head, perfectly framed, through the gap in the front façade while having dinner.”

It’s this response to site and climate, combined with the basic principles of proportion, scale and spatial unity, that make for a home that has a strong sense of place and is in a continuous dialogue with its surroundings. “We love living here. It’s so easy that sometimes it’s hard to want to leave.”

PHOTOS: Greg Cox PRODUCTION: Etienne Hanekom WORDS: Alma Viviers

by Stefan Antoni Olmesdahl Truen Architects (SAOTA): 021 468 4400, www.saota.com

Published with permission of Visi­

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