Lost in space
South African fashionista's cottage undergoes a green renovation to bring the outdoors in, writes Mandy Allen
Jo Springthorpe and Jeff Liss, their son Oscar, Ruby the cat, Annie the Jack Russell and Lucky the Labrador
Cape Town, South Africa
The building structure has a cantilevered section that hangs over the pool. Aside from its dramatic design, the glass cube is also Springthorpe’s favourite spot to curl up with a book or conduct
With its indigenous surroundings, within reach of the city of Cape Town and Table Mountain, this sustainably-built architectural family home provides an idyllic indoor-outdoor experience for its occupants: fashion designer and former model and magazine fashion editor Jo Springthorpe, her husband Jeff Liss and their son Oscar.
Bringing to mind a glass-box treehouse, the contemporary structure by architect Antonio Zaninovic is a deceptively spacious yet secluded city oasis that showcases the wonders of nature from every angle.
The story of the house is one of love at first sight. Springthorpe and Liss swapped their beautiful Victorian house for a single-level, two-bedroom and "mostly liveable" 1950s cottage situated in a lush ravine at the foot of Table Mountain. A few years later came an instant connection with Zaninovic, a young Chilean architect introduced to them by a friend - an encounter that led to a satisfying creative collaboration rooted in friendship.
Even before the couple met Zaninovic, they knew that their long-dreamed-of renovation would be about maximising space and highlighting views of the surrounding cityscape, harbour and mountain. "We loved the way Antonio saw the position through fresh eyes," Springthorpe says of their first discussion. "He told us that were he to re-create the house, he would follow one basic objective: to give every space a connection with its surroundings."
Zaninovic's design language is one of energy-efficient architecture that takes its cues from the landscape rather than imposing structures upon it. He achieves this through the use of understated materials, with a particular emphasis on concrete, plus cantilevers, overhangs and as much glass as practicality will allow for. These principles were all put to use in the couple's home. The result is a habitat that - though hunkered down and grounded - seems to float in the canopy of trees that enclose it. Although built on the original footprint, the home is now abundant with space, light and volume.
The new floor plan functions on two levels - the ground-level entrance, living and kitchen areas, and an upstairs incorporating three bedrooms, bathrooms and an open-plan TV and reading room. A sunken third level encompasses a fynbos (local shrub) garden and lap pool.
The couple and Zaninovic have an affinity for natural materials and environmental practices. "The choice of materials is 'green' but was also determined by budget - reinforced concrete, brick, plaster and glass are all relatively affordable and widely available," Zaninovic explains. "We also reused as much as possible, such as timber trusses from the old cottage that form a rustic feature wall on the front of the house and pool area, and the stone wall backing the pool that is clad in granite excavated on site. In addition, we introduced natural passive systems, such as cross-ventilation, cantilevers for shade, and buried spaces at pool level that keep temperatures cool in summer."
Liss and Zaninovic also studied the path of the sun so as to reduce reliance on artificial light. "The garden is also waterwise and fully indigenous," Springthorpe says. "The floors upstairs are bamboo, and hardly any of our furniture or textiles are new."
True to the couple's wishes, this is a home for seamless indoor-outdoor living. Sliding glass doors, when opened, transform the generously proportioned veranda, living room and enclosed anterior courtyard into a singular airy space. A concrete bench cuts through this section of the house, running the length of the main wall from the outside porch into the living room and then outside again to the courtyard. Long, narrow upper windows have been cut out of the walls in the living room as well as the upstairs master bedroom, highlighting views of greenery and allowing natural light to stream inside.
The eclectic décor - a mix of mid-century modern furnishings, vintage textiles and South African artwork - is attributed to Springthorpe's design-savvy eye. "I love how her choice of fabrics softens the architecture," Zaninovic says. "And how the interesting pieces she has found add a unique soul to the house." Springthorpe explains: "When I travelled the world modelling and then as a fashion editor, it wasn't the clothing boutiques I was drawn to, but rather the markets and junk stores and vintage furniture shops. I love furniture from most periods, but particularly mid-century modern through to the '70s, especially Swedish and Danish pieces. And I've obsessively been collecting textiles from the '50s, '60s and '70s that were all packed away until the house was finished."
Those retro textiles, with prints that range from psychedelic to nature-inspired, have taken form as cushion covers and furniture upholstery. The patterns are linked by Springthorpe's adoration for the colour green, which appears in other details such as an overdyed Iranian rug and a mosaic wall in son Oscar's bathroom. "What can I say, I have a thing for green. It's clearly not enough for me to just have it on my doorstep," Springthorpe says.
The house appears to be a great source of inspiration not only for the couple's family life, but also for their work. "Jeff is in the fashion retail industry but has an incredible passion and talent for painting," Springthorpe says. "The third upstairs bedroom, which is actually a guest room, has become Jeff's studio where he paints. He's slowly working towards an exhibition, which is exciting. With the treetops outside, it's such a peaceful and energising space."
And though Springthorpe's career as a fashion editor for South Africa's leading glossies has voluntarily come to a close, she recently launched her own clothing label, Pintuck - a capsule collection for the global traveller consisting of natural Indian fabrics, some with subtle embellishments and block-print detailing.
"There's a space in the kitchen, the glass-cantilevered 'cube', which is my favourite place in the whole house to sit with a cup of tea, finding inspiration for the clothing and accessories collections. It feels as if Antonio designed it just for me," she says. "I love this house so much that if I were a cat, I'd purr all the time."
PRODUCTION SVEN ALBERDING
PHOTOGRAPHY GREG COX/WWW.BUREAUX.CO.ZA