This Cape Town Estate Is an Unparalleled Masterpiece of Architecture and Design
A marquee ridge in Cape Town hosts a world-class home with transparency, tactility, and a bit of James Bond swagger.
Six years ago, the interior designer Debra Parkington stood in Cape Town, South Africa, surrounded by some of the world’s most majestic scenery. Looking south beyond Camps Bay, she could see the Twelve Apostles mountain range. To the north, across Table Bay, sat Robben Island, and just above her stood the pale, rocky outcropping of Lion’s Head peak. She clutched a handful of rocky earth, pondering a new project. “I said, ‘Let’s make a house that connects with this,’” Parkington recalls, referring to that Cape granite. “It had lots of gold, off-whites, lovely ochre-y tones to it and shots of bronze and gold fleck.” Philip Olmesdahl, a principal, director, and architect at SAOTA, was equally immersed, absorbing the contours, reading every formation in anticipation of the structure that would eventually emerge.
That earth became the inspiration for a stunning and technically ambitious 10,000-square-foot home, executed by creative collaborators SAOTA and Studio Parkington. The client, who is the head of a global clothing manufacturing and commercial real estate company, sought the expertise of Cape Town–based SAOTA in part because of the firm’s deep knowledge of that particular coastline. “I think the site allowed the owner to be more ambitious,” says Olmesdahl, who worked with fellow project architect Tamaryn Fourie and senior staff member Joe Schützer-Weissmann. “I think because he realized how significant it was, he was more apt to respond to it more dramatically—on an emotional level and a financial one, as well.”
The three-story home was a technical feat to accomplish. Measuring less than an acre, the unique property is two combined narrow plots on a ridge. It was a coup to score, as the previous owners had held onto the land for decades. And unlike most prime, ocean-facing properties, this plot had nearly all of Cape Town’s signature sights within its 360-degree view. Structural engineers were enlisted to navigate the challenging building process on the steep site. Building platforms had to be established and a makeshift driveway put in place. DDC Construction was engaged for the technical process of pouring the concrete. “Every wall was a work of art,” says Olmesdahl. The interior and exterior walls and ceilings (except for those on the second floor) are the same custom concrete mix: a light, white-pigmented base with aggregate sourced from the Northern Cape and Namibia that has hints of pink and blue. The flooring inside and out is a terrazzo-like polished concrete. “We wanted to reduce the building to as few elements as possible,” says Olmesdahl. The simplicity of finishes used indoors and out helps to both blur boundaries and keep the house in tune with the natural setting.
The owner was adamant that he did not want a cold, modern house, so great care was taken with rich materials—concrete, bronze, steel, zinc, travertine—to impart texture and warmth. Olmesdahl and the SAOTA team had all concrete walls and soffits sandblasted for a softer, tactile quality. The signature architectural element of the house is the massive concrete canopy that extends to the edge of the property, sheltering the expansive terrace atop the garage. Luring guests outside, where the view is most striking, SAOTA’s linear, dramatic feature also performs elegant utility: The canopy provides shade and its large skylight gives a direct view up to Lion’s Head peak. “We wanted to unpack programming from the house and shift it to the eastern edge of the site,” says Olmesdahl. “So we pushed the house out of the way and created a massive outdoor shaded area.”
The family’s private spaces were placed on the second story, where SAOTA rendered minimalist luxury quietly and consistently. The ceilings upstairs are the same zinc as the shallow hipped roof. The glass doors have performance glazing to regulate heat. Two years of wind studies were performed on the ridge, prompting the architects to create different seating areas for different times of year. Outdoor furniture was designed to withstand gale-force winds, as was the custom Cor-Ten steel screen, which shades the sunny passage between the master bedroom and study.
An infinity pool facing the Twelve Apostles connects to a larger swimming pool on the central outdoor terrace via a narrow reflecting pond. Off the family lounge, a separate reflecting pond has a glass bottom with a geometric frame allowing patterned sunlight to shine down to the motor court and entry level below. A showstopping custom monolith designed by the South African artist Angus Taylor sits beneath the concrete canopy. After visiting the site, he designed the massive 10-by-6-foot piece that slides open—with the push of a button—exposing a bar and ledge for guests to lean (or dance) on. “How’s that for a James Bond feature,” laughs Parkington.
Parkington—who kept a chunk of Cape granite on her desk throughout the four-year project, as a reminder of the home’s original inspiration—embraced a warm palette. She eschewed bright whites and went for golden-oak kitchen cabinetry, designed by SAOTA. It was an admittedly risky choice given that the look could appear dated. Instead, the contrast of soft white in the concrete with the sculptural ’60s and ’70s furnishings synched perfectly. Even the kitchen hood required weeks of collaboration with metal crafters, who carefully applied various powders and acids to achieve a black “with movement” patina that ties into the black-with-gold marble countertops.
For the furniture, “[the owner] made it very clear that it needed to be pieces where you could jump into the pool, climb out, and go sit on the sofa, or that he could be watching sports with a bunch of friends and sit on the backs of them,” says Parkington. She chose strong pieces that could withstand that kind of use, yet appear balanced in the space. Most of the furnishings are vintage by masters such as Angelo Mangiarotti, Serge Mouille, and Edoardo Villa. Parkington researched the original fabrics, then imported the fine Italian velvets and textured wools for reupholstering with the intention of creating a tactile experience within her subtle palette. All the rugs were custom designed to coordinate.
“It’s the kind of house [where] you put your hands up and let your fingers trail the sandblasted walls, the Italian velvet sofa, the shag piles, the Vladimir Kagan wool sofa, the stone, steel,” says Parkington. “There was so much thought and love in the details and for me, it is such a sensory home.” The tailored interiors find their aesthetic equilibrium with the structure itself—a home that elevates materials and concepts into a pure, living sculpture. “The overriding character is actually a rather calm and uncomplicated experience,” says Olmesdahl, “but it’s underpinned with technical achievement.”
SAOTA, +27.21.468.4400, saota.com; Studio Parkington, +27.71.436.1661, studioparkington.com
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