The owners of this long, horizontal holiday house in Mozambique have dubbed it ‘Casa Comprida’. Portuguese for ‘longhouse’, the name is a nod to the former colony’s cultural influence, which is still tangible here. Set on a pristine beach on a game reserve called The Sanctuary, the house looks over a crystal-clear bay near the town of Vilanculos, and is surrounded by nature. From the water, the fronded jekka roof of the villa peeps through the greenery, marking a man-made horizon – or line – on the dune. Otherwise, it is concealed by indigenous bush.
After finding this idyllic site, the owners, Lloyd and Elizabeth, and their architect, Andrew Makin of designworkshop:sa, visited it together. As they discussed their ideas, the architect drew a sketch in the sand. ‘The idea of a mainly linear building made of a series of linked pavilions with one floating floor line and one roof line was formed there on the beach,’ he says.
The configuration of the interior spaces were carefully considered and adapted as the design progressed. ‘All of the rooms where the owners and their guests will reside should face the ocean, because that’s the reason you are there,’ Andrew explains. The separate pavilions mean the arrangement is flexible, too: visit with many people and all the rooms can be used; if there are only a couple in residence, the main living area and directly adjacent bedroom can be enjoyed, with the other areas not opened at all. The ‘back-of-house’ utilities, meanwhile, are set perpendicular to the main horizontal space, protruding back into the bush and creating a series of courtyards that scale down before the house opens up to the ocean in front. This spatial treatment intensifies both the vastness of the terrain and the privacy of the courtyards.
The interiors, by Mario Rodrigues and Andrew Irving of Durban-based interior designers Interdeco, are pared down and practical, but bright and luxurious. ‘I like colour a lot,’ states Elizabeth. ‘I can’t do muted. And I didn’t want a typical beach house with blues, turquoise and aqua.’
The idea was that nothing should be too precious. ‘We wanted to keep it all very informal,’ explains Mario. ‘Less is more was our main ethos throughout the entire project. Rather than lots of details and ornaments, we wanted it to be natural and uncontrived. The main objective was to keep it simple, emphasising the outside beauty rather than the detailing inside.’
The furnishings combine casual beachy rattan and wood with contemporary South African design. ‘Most of the furniture is wood, because it gets hot in Mozambique,’ explains Mario. ‘It allows the air to circulate.’ From the orange accent that runs through the interiors, bringing brightness to the largely natural palette, to the innovative lights made from suspended woven baskets – ‘to bring the ceiling lower in the main living space’ – and the giant daybed nestled among the overhanging branches of a lala palm, the house is bright, comfortable, thoughtful and well suited to idyllic family beach holidays. ‘I like a minimalist, yet comfy and happy feel,’ says Elizabeth. ‘There’s nothing superfluous about this at all.’
But there’s another dimension of the design that goes beyond a sense of fun and luxury, and allows the occupants to be part of the extraordinary setting. The longhouse typology – looking over the ocean, with the African bush directly behind it – creates an opportunity to mark the inhabitants’ relationship with a strangely shifting terrain. ‘With wind and ocean currents, the water’s edge moves a great deal and the sand level changes a lot,’ explains Andrew. To counteract that, Casa Comprida is on stilts. This helps avoid the risk of cracking walls if the building were to shift with the movement of the dunes, and also to avoid sand being dragged into the house by feet or blown in by the wind. However, it also reduces the environmental impact. ‘The columns underneath mean it doesn’t rest on the sand, so that little animals and the creatures that move between the bush and the sea – crabs and so on – can continue to do so under the building,’ the architect says.
Casa Comprida is also unusual in that, despite being on the east coast, the peninsula it’s on ‘turns the site towards the west’, as Andrew puts it. It means that rather than the blinding-hot summer mornings more usual to the east coast, the days start gently, and light intensifies towards evening. ‘You wake up slowly in the shadows and enter the day gradually,’ says Makin. ‘When the sun dips on the horizon, you’re reminded of the beauty of the day… And then you go into the calmness of the night.’
The sunset, like the sand and the sea, seems to catch the villa and its inhabitants in an ‘in-between’ zone, for as the sun goes down, the bush behind the house is beautifully lit. ‘I think being in-between is one of the delights of life,’ Andrew says. ‘A sunrise, a sunset or an eclipse of the moon are natural occurrences that last for very short periods of time, which means they are intensified or concentrated in a way… and that’s what happens here.’