Umdloti House

WORDS Kerryn Fischer PHOTOS Elsa Young / Frank Features

Overlooking Umdloti beach’s main surf break, this contemporary Kwazulu-Natal beach house evokes a mindful minimalism that is cool, calm and utterly covetable.

It was a serendipitous Sunday drive that delivered the current owners to this prime property in Umdloti. They were met by spectacular views out towards the local surf break, and a 400-year-old milkwood standing sentinel in the front garden. “We had been thinking about buying a home in Umdloti for a while, so to happen upon this place without trying too hard felt like the realisation of a dream,” they say.

Although the couple live full time on a farm on the North Coast, the family have a long association with Umdloti, dating back to the early 1900s, when a great-grandfather lived there.“ We have great memories of the times we spent here over the years, and we wanted to emulate that with our own children,” say the owners. “The original house was tucked away behind such an overgrown garden that you couldn’t see the sea, and you had to fight your way through an impenetrable banana plantation to get to the milkwood,” they add.

Umdloti House
The picture window in the double-volume TV lounge creates a dramatic contrast between the pure white walls and lush tropical greens beyond.

Although the house was run-down, initially that was part of the charm for the couple, who would “camp out there with nothing more than an air fryer” on weekends. Their delight at finding a property that so encapsulated the spirit of Umdloti had them initially thinking of a small renovation. However, as soon as they got architect Lisa Rorich on board, they began to see the enormous potential of the location. Together with project architect Gareth Porrill, Lisa set out to create a home that embraces the relaxed lifestyle of the North Coast with a take on tropical modernism. “The old house determined the levels of the new house as it was laid out over split levels,” says Lisa. Her idea was to build to the highest level to capture the views and the north light, and to offer protection from wind. The resulting L-shaped home, laid out over two floors, has generous living areas and a guest suite downstairs, with the main bedroom and three bedrooms for their children located upstairs.

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“We wanted to pay homage to the original bungalow, and so designed a grounding, painted stone wall at the entrance that weaves its way through the building to create a solid, textured backdrop to the living areas on the ground floor,” explains Gareth. You enter into a double-volume space, where a six-metre-high picture window to the left takes your eye up to the patterned brickwork on the mezzanine above while bringing the lush tropical greens inside. Ahead of you is the warmth of natural wood cladding in the living area and kitchen, while overhead a skylight and raked ceilings amplify the light and airy feel of the tropical architecture.

Layered with warm natural timber cladding and slatted screens that offer security and monkey-proofing, the downstairs living areas can be opened up or closed as the mood takes you. “The fine slatted timber screens also offer a wonderful filtered quality of light, which changes throughout the day, further enhancing the tones and textures of the white-on-white interiors,” says Lisa.

This timber box effect is repeated in the living room, where a “secret” panel of the timber cladding slides away to reveal the entrance to the upstairs areas. It works on a magnetic locking system. An office, which sits behind the timber cladding right next to the kitchen, can also slide away to expose the living area and the lush views beyond it.

“We purposely kept the overall palette to a minimum, using mostly white with subtle pops of green, natural tones, brushed brass and terracotta throughout,” explains Gareth. The textures of white – as seen in painted stone, breeze blocks, natural oak, bleached balau and rattan – create a grounded space, with all interior finishes sourced locally from South African craftsmen.

“We couldn’t be happier with what Lisa and Gareth have created,” say the owners. “Living in an old farmhouse where there is lots of wasted space, we love that this house functions so efficiently – it really is our little slice of heaven.”

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