It is what it is

PHOTOS Micky Hoyle PRODUCTION Sumien Brink WORDS Erika Bornman

“Form follows function” is something the DIY-design owners of this efficient Pringle Bay home take seriously – with a little help from Google Sketchup.

Building a house isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Designing it yourself with no formal training and then building it? Well, that’s something else entirely, and clearly a process creative duo Gavin and Karin Rooke relish. They’d already been through it twice before.

This house, however, posed more of a challenge than their previous projects. For starters, it was 1 500km away from their home in Joburg, where they run an art gallery and advertising agency.

Normally the couple wouldn’t have considered anything more than a two-hour drive away, but with Lanseria close-by, affordable domestic flights and a final, spectacular one-hour drive from Cape Town, they decided that it was indeed viable to have a weekend house in Pringle Bay. It’s a place that holds fond memories for them from their varsity days in Cape Town and also one where Liam, nine, and Reegan, seven, can play freely.

A few years ago, while on holiday there, they decided to look for a suitable plot to buy. It took them a day and a half of hunting. When the estate agent dismissed this particular piece of land – “You don’t want that, it’s an unusual shape” – their interest was piqued.

They like unusual. The plot was indeed an odd-shaped diamond with an old fisherman’s shack on it. It was also a hop, skip and a jump from the only north-facing beach in South Africa, and more affordable as nobody seemed to want it, so the decision was made.

The result of severe constraints

Gavin didn’t have a picture of his perfect house in mind when he started the design. “The house’s aesthetics are a result of the severe constraints presented by the weather, the site and the corroding sea air. How it worked would determine what it looked like,” he says.

The constraints were indeed rigorous. The number one consideration was the wind. In summer, a not-unpleasant southeasterly blows, but it is winter’s harsh northwesterly that poses the main problem.

“Here, you have to figure out how to keep the roof down, not up,” he laughs. “Then there’s the sea. It usually destroys what it touches, whereas we wanted something that would improve as it weathered.”

There were also the Cape-specific restrictions of using cavity walls to insulate against water and wind, the house’s restricted footprint within the site’s unusual shape, and the need to maximise sea and mountain views. The couple decided on four bedrooms, each with its own en-suite bathroom, and Gavin set about creating their holiday home.

He believes in solving problems at point of design, not during construction, and gained a solid understanding of wind, light heating and cooling by reading up on how to make the most of the elements, specifically Sun, Wind and Light by G.Z. Brown and Mark DeKay (John Wiley & Son, 2001). He also made use of local knowledge by asking neighbours about wind conditions.

And so, with the help of logic and Google SketchUp, which allowed him to visualise his design in 3D (see page 152), Gavin designed a house that met all the requirements. One major issue still had to be addressed though, and that was distance. “With the Cape’s weather and contractors notoriously unpredictable, and the average build lasting two to three years, we knew there was no way we could supervise from Joburg,” says Karin.

So they called in project manager Honor Breyer-Menke. “There was an instant understanding between us,” adds Gavin. “She knew what we wanted and followed through exactly. Her assistance in getting council approval, sourcing the best local contractors and being on site every working day was invaluable.” Foundation to occupation took only 38 weeks – an astounding feat, even more so because the building was completed within budget.

It will stand the test of time

From the outside, it’s clear that this is a house that will stand the test of time. Weather-resistant galvanised steel railings (that’ll get more attractive with age), fibre-cement cladding and aluminium frames ensure little, if any, maintenance is needed. Once again, the materials used were dictated by their function.

“It’s when there are no limits that things get a little fanciful,” Gavin says with a grimace. “Good design is an ethic, not an aesthetic. You need constraints. Operate within them, and you’ll find everything works.”

The family’s three bedrooms are downstairs. “You don’t need to see the view when you’re sleeping,” smiles Karin. The main living area and guest bedroom are upstairs, maximising the views. And what views they are. Across the bay, Table Mountain; in the bay, whales and dolphins; behind the house, mountains; and around the house, well-established milkwoods and fynbos.

From the kitchen, a huge unadorned window looks out to sea. Glass panels under the raised roof let the sky in even further. There’s a deck facing the sea, and one overlooking the mountains, thereby ensuring an outdoor living space regardless of prevailing wind, while the huge doors allow for what Australians call a dog run – an open space allowing breezes into the house – so no air-conditioning is needed.

“The true design achievement of the house is that it is totally wind-efficient,” confirms Gavin.

He once again used logic and Google SketchUp to design most of the furniture and light fittings inside. As a result, everything fits seamlessly into the overall look of the house. Even the military palette of grey and brown fabric and paint blends in with the building materials used, and with the sea and sky.

The overall result? A truly beautiful holiday home. “You find it beautiful?” Gavin looks puzzled. “I think it just is what it is.”

Gavin and Karin Rooke:,

First published in VISI 38. See more of our favourite beach houses online and buy the Endless Summer edition of VISI for the ultimate beach house collection.