Return to Eden: Keurboomstrand Home

WORDS Anette Klinger PRODUCTION Annemarie Mentjies PHOTOS Dook

Hidden in the canopies of an Afromontane forest and only accessible via a winding walkway, this off-the-grid refuge ensures the journey is as exciting as the destination.

There was a non-negotiable in the client brief: respect the land. It’s not difficult to see why – the parcel of earth the residence was built on is pristinely beautiful. “The farm is situated near Plettenberg Bay, on a large portion of land filled with indigenous forest, with rivers running through it and a view of the Tsitsikamma Mountains,” says architect Paul Oosthuizen, giving context to his client’s instructions. “There was one patch of invasive wattle on the land, which was cleared – this became the area we developed.”

Tucked into the contours of the ancient hill, with vegetation pulled over like a quilt, the homestead blends seamlessly with its surrounds. Endemic fynbos was carefully curated by Bruce Beyer to supplement the ecology, drawing birds, insects and even deer to the roof. Where lightweight roofing was required, Rheinzink was hand-formed into amorphous shapes.

To find the perfect spot on which to build, Paul surveyed the sloped piece of land by climbing some of the tall trees on its periphery, then decided on the bottom of the hill, so the house could be nestled into the forest and give his client a view of the riverbed. Next up, Simon Hart and his team at No Fuss Construction brought Paul’s vision to life. The result is a home that feels intimately connected to its woodsy surroundings, and secluded from the world beyond. In fact, reaching it is a pursuit that requires visitors to make the last 60-metre journey on foot.“ As you approach, you drive along a road that’s right up against the forest to your left,” says Paul. “You then park in a garage that’s buried underground, get out, and walk along a boardwalk that goes through a canopy of trees, about eight metres off the ground, before you arrive in the courtyard. It offers the guests the sense that they’ve ‘discovered’ a house in the middle of a forest.”

Paul describes the level at which guests enter the two-bedroom home as organic and amorphous, with the space culminating in a curved window that lines up perfectly with Formosa Peak to the northeast. “The curved and splayed lines of the layout create a dynamic tension,” says Paul. “If a space is square, your mind recognises it and doesn’t think about it again; if it’s slightly offset, like here, your mind keeps trying to map it, but can’t. I think that’s one of the reasons why we as humans like to be in nature. Our mind is constantly stimulated because we can’t map what we’re seeing.”

The north patio roof is supported by a steel tree structure.

To establish harmony between the building and its setting, part of Paul’s concept was to incorporate all the natural elements in the design. The homage to wood is apparent throughout, most notably in the expertly executed carpentry and joinery by Meyer Von Wielligh. Adding to this is the “treehouse” office nearest to the forest, built from Japanese cedar, then charred using the Japanese wood-preservation method of shou sugi ban.

Exquisite cabinetry, designed by Paul in collaboration with Meyer Von Wielligh, floats above a granite floor, allowing the space to sweep through unhindered. The kitchen opens out to an alfresco breakfast terrace to the east as well as the firepit courtyard to the west.

To reference air, Paul designed a pattern of scalloped, circular shapes moulded onto the off-shutter concrete of the ceiling on the lower level. For the stone element, there’s a nod to the geological landscape by employing stonemasons to create dry-packed stone walls. They’ve been used for the exterior of the house as well as the huge steps in the garden inspired by the ancient Inca terraces.

As for water, the element’s presence is ubiquitous thanks to a water feature that runs the length of the house, cascades down the terraces, and culminates in a swimming pond. Beyond it, at the bottom of the property, there’s a big dam, so that visually, there’s an illusion of one continuous stream.

“When you walk into the house, the textures are delicious. You just want to touch everything,” says Paul, who also headed up the interior design, in collaboration with Laura Jamieson Chatz. “All these refined finishes are offset against raw concrete elements. It gives you the tactile sensibility you’d expect from being in nature.”

Beyond aesthetics, the magic of the house lies in its integration into the ecology of the forest – and part of this vision was achieved through landscaping by fynbos specialist Bruce Beyer. Since completion, the house’s roof, which is covered in indigenous grasses and fynbos, has become a sanctuary for bushbuck, bushpigs and birds. And when it comes to some of the forest’s more mischievous residents – vervet monkeys and baboons – windows and sliding doors have been designed with stops that only allow them to open up to a certain point. For areas such as the outside of the kitchen and the guest room’s private garden, Paul designed special screens with a stylised pattern of the Inca cross, to deny would-be primate intruders access. “We actually dubbed that outside lounge the monkey lounge, because there were literally monkeys hanging out there all through construction,” he says, laughing. A stamp of approval, if ever there was one…

Looking for more architectural inspiration? Sign up to our weekly newsletter, here, or take a look at this Johannesburg House.