City living has its benefits, but relocating to an out-of-town retreat means a full-time holiday feeling – even with a demanding business to run. It’s a move that partners Kobus Loots and Greg Shaw made over a decade ago, and the lure of urban living hasn’t swayed them since.
Working as film editors at a company based in Cape Town’s CBD while living in an apartment on the crammed Atlantic seaboard, the couple started building a weekend house in Misty Cliffs in 2000.
Shortly after, they felt a pull to move their home from the hum of Cape Town to this more secluded spot. A 45-minute drive to the city centre, it provides a relaxed living environment, but with a reasonable commute.
While the house started off as a modest holiday home, Kobus and Greg soon saw the potential to create their ideal living space – something bigger than just a little house with a sea view. ‘I saw a picture of an Australian house clad in wood with a modern architectural aesthetic,’ says Kobus, explaining how they wanted the look of a contemporary timber-frame house.
‘I’d describe our space as a wooden shack by the sea, with a spin on the traditional,’ adds Greg. ‘Our brief to the architect was a beach home with a difference. But while we may have wanted the house to look extraordinary, it needed to be a practical home, where real people live.’
The ‘log cabin’, as Greg describes it, has become something much more spacious than they originally intended. ‘You get so wrapped up in the process that before you know it, it’s much larger than you ever imagined,’ says Greg. A glass bird aviary, 20m high, was used as the structure to connect the original home with the new living area. ‘We didn’t want to do more of the same,’ says Kobus of the build. ‘We wanted to create a mix of older elements with something more modern, otherwise things would be too bland,’ he explains.
For the new wing, the pair both wanted a bunker by the sea. Their reason was simple: ‘Living next to the sea means you can’t get away from the sun, so we wanted a darker area to retreat to,’ says Kobus. The result is complementary rather than clashing. ‘The two areas of the house blend, and it’s the aviary that marries them – it literally joins the two houses and styles.’
Greg’s love for birds has also injected a real sense of honouring the natural beauty of the location. ‘I’m crazy about nature, and the aviary was the only way to make me feel like we lived in the heart of it,’ he explains. ‘I am drawn to the exotic, and what could be more so than a pink scarlet ibis and toco toucans essentially living in your home?’
While the pair have similar tastes that result in complementary design (Greg loves minimalism and Kobus is especially fond of Scandinavian chic), their love of mixing things up is the antidote to what could otherwise be an insipid space. They aren’t fond of clutter and ornamentation – ‘it doesn’t work because of the wind,’ says Kobus – and aren’t fussed about eclectic decor with varied price tags either. ‘My philosophy is that if you invest in three big pieces of value, then it’s fine to add in other objects, such as basics from accessible retailers.’
An example of his favourite investment pieces are the South American mint-green doors in the living room, a purchase that Kobus made before the section was even built. ‘I believe that if you buy things you like, everything will work together,’ he says.
Overseas finds, bought while travelling, have been added to the mix. ‘We always buy perceived kitsch things on holiday and find space for them somewhere,’ says Greg, pointing to the cheery, brightly painted artwork of a Zanzibar village. More muted pieces include a marble chessboard bought on a visit to India (made from the same marble as the Taj Mahal) and a modern rectangular glass lamp – found in New York City – that sits on the living room’s low coffee table.
Treasured pieces can, however, have a limited lifespan in the Shaw-Loots house. ‘We always want to shake things up,’ says Greg. Kobus agrees: ‘Your home will never be finished because you always carry on throwing out and adding to it.’
Take, for example, the Eames chair – once the home’s pride and joy – that was slowly worked out of the space and has now been sold. With a tribe of pets including Airedale terriers and a macaw parrot, accepting that the interior fixtures and furniture will become weathered means a pragmatic detachment from material items. ‘Coco the parrot loved chewing it,’ muses Greg. ‘The buyer was horrified that we had allowed an original Eames lounge chair and ottoman to be eaten by a parrot.’
The landscape of the Cape Peninsula dominates, so the garden needed to become an extension of the rugged surrounds – and, in essence, art in its own right. ‘In our house, paintings aren’t necessary because we’re surrounded by nature,’ says Kobus, explaining that when creating the outdoor living area, they simply worked with what was already there. ‘We used the rocks from the building site as cladding and as part of the concrete deck that wraps around the house.’ For the garden, the approach was simple: trial and error. ‘Here, you plant whatever will grow, like fynbos and olive trees. We spent a fortune on bulbs but lost them all overnight to a hungry porcupine.’ But while the garden scheme was unintentional, elements like the swimming pool were more carefully thought through. ‘The dark colour of the raised pool purposefully blends into the mountains beyond,’ says Kobus.
This balanced approach to design, be it carefully considered or simply allowed to evolve, means that the home this enterprising pair have created is unique – a perfect marriage of old and new that is quite definitely unexpected.
The owners Kobus Loots and Greg Shaw share their home with their three Airedale terriers, two toco toucans, a scarlet ibis and a macaw parrot.
The home Spread over four levels, the property contains a home office and bathroom on the ground floor and a living area, two bedrooms and a bathroom on the first floor. The open-plan kitchen and dining area make up the second floor and the master bedroom and bathroom occupy the home’s top floor.
Images by: Greg Cox / Bureaux
This feature was originally published in February 2016.
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