House Tour

IN PICTURES | This Cape beach house showcases big ideas on a small scale

The sober lines of this Kommetjie holiday home are influenced by the architect's uncomplicated approach to designing large-scale international buildings

17 February 2019 - 00:00 By Tracey Chemaly

It was a series of chance encounters that led to Jens and Marie Glasenapp building a holiday home in Cape Town's surfing village of Kommetjie.
The couple, who live on the French island of Réunion, began travelling to SA to encourage their three children (now between the ages of 17 and 22) to practise English.
During one of these roadtrips, while waiting for his family outside Fisherman's, a restaurant in Kommetjie (a 45-minute drive from Cape Town's CBD), Jens, a German cardiologist, happened to meet Willi, an Austrian estate agent in the area. Conversing in their common lingua franca, the two hopped into Willi's car and went for a coastal drive.
"I wasn't interested in buying anything. I was just enjoying Willi's company and I certainly didn't want to live in an estate," he says, referring to walled-up security complexes.
An open piece of land did, however, pique his interest. "But Willi said it was 'complicated'. It was not suitable for construction and had a peculiar triangular shape," says Jens of the 388m2 plot that sits in the middle of a large piece of protected land vegetated mainly by indigenous milkwood trees.
Jens's wife, Marie, a French midwife, was equally struck by the property when he took her to view the plot a few weeks later. The couple was determined to turn this "complicated" piece of land into a dream escape for family and friends, and their offer to purchase was accepted.
With the help of Jens's brother, Torsten, a Berlin-based architect and partner at Müller Reimann, they designed a home that would become what Torsten describes as "compact, precise and focused".
An encounter with a huge Danish dog on Kommetjie's Long Beach led to its owner recommending a builder for the construction, and Barry Smith was employed for the job. But because neither Jens nor Torsten could oversee the day-to-day management of the construction process, local help was needed.
Again by coincidence, they met a fellow mountain runner who was a local designer experienced in supervising construction projects, and Tim Lewis agreed to lend his expertise to designing the doors, ceilings, bathrooms and garden, while overseeing all the finishes.
It took two years for the land to be made suitable for construction and for the necessary permissions to be granted from council before building could begin.
"We just wanted a small, compact, one-storey beach house," says Jens of his simple brief to Torsten. But his brother insisted on going up another level to maximise the ocean and mountain views. The result is a 110m home, with a double-volume ceiling over the living area, a master bedroom situated above the garage, and a planted rooftop terrace open to nature.
Built with a bend in the box shape of the structure, the home ensures optimal enjoyment of the outdoors. "The slightly bent footprint allowed the living room to be situated at the centre of the site, opening to two totally different garden areas," says Torsten.
"It's genius what my brother did with the shape," Jens says. "He normally does big projects like university buildings in Frankfurt or Germany's Ministry of Internal Affairs - never private housing - so the sober lines of this house are influenced by his pared-back, uncomplicated approach to large-scale buildings."
Torsten was also responsible for designing the external shutters that are able to close the loggias on both ends of the living space, turning the home into a concealed garapa-clad box when the family is away.
"I believe in naturally integrating buildings with their given surroundings," says the architect. "By choosing significant materials and creating proper details, a house becomes sustainable and durable."
Planning to visit Kommetjie at least twice a year, the Glasenapps intend to take full advantage of their love for mountain runs, surfing and kitesurfing in this welcoming yet quiet seaside getaway.
"The people of Kommetjie are very open, so it was easy to make friends to share all sorts of activities," says Marie.
Free of fencing, the property welcomes guests through simple wooden screens used as a border deterrent for people wandering through the extensive garden.
"Our home is like an island between all the milkwood trees," says Jens, referencing the 1,500m2 reserve surrounding the property.
"It's just a magical spot."

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