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An eco-friendly Cape Town home proves the suburbs can be green and glamorous

Interior designer Rory Macpherson and his wife, branding and marketing consultant Katrina, live, work and play in their voluminous Mother City home

By Thobeka Phanyeko  | February 8, 2022 | Interiors

Constantia is a wonderfully green, lush area in the foothills of Table Mountain. It is a location that captured Rory and Katrina Macpherson’s attention when they first landed on South African soil, having just relocated from London. Their love story spans decades, the pair having met at school in southern Spain at the age of 11. ‘The memories of being in the heat, closer to nature and by the sea, always make us smile,’ says Rory.

Years later, they arrived in Cape Town as parents to two young children. ‘We felt we had to get that lifestyle back, without being too far from the vibrant city centre and the airport, which are both only 20 minutes away. Constantia is a naturally beautiful area, and there are amazing walks and runs on our doorstep. Our dogs, Chilli (who came with us from London) and Sabi (who we rescued during the lockdown), love it too.’

When they bought the bungalow property, Rory and Katrina recognised the potential to do something different. ‘There is not much in the way of contemporary architecture and interior design in the vicinity. Our vision was to create a home in which we could live, work and play, and that we would want to stay in for at least five years,’ says Rory. ‘The first thing we felt the need to do was create more space and opportunity for light to flood in. Internally, we kept the main ground-floor footprint but took out all the internal walls, removed the ceiling, and added a second storey and a guest studio. We increased the footprint from 250 to 400 square metres and added a huge amount of volume,’ he says. ›They lifted the ceiling dramatically in the open-plan living-dining-kitchen area, and added windows and doors in glass. Ceiling heights throughout are lofty; 11 metres at one point, eight in the main living area and six in the couple’s bedroom.

‘We are both entrepreneurs running international businesses, so the work-from-home aspect was important to integrate into the renovation and design decisions. We converted the garage into a loft-style joint office for this.’

Having space to entertain and create memorable experiences was another important factor. ‘The wall on the south elevation in the living room is fully glazed with three-metre-tall glass doors that open onto a covered external dining table seating 10. With the doors open it has a wonderful feeling of being in nature, and the in-out flow we love. For warm summer days or pre- or post-dinner cocktails, we built a bar by the pool and called it “Chilli’s”, after our beloved dog.’

A climbing passion-fruit plant frames the bar. ‘You can pick your fruit and add it to your cocktail. I worked with two brilliant young artists, Almero Welgemoed and Kristiaan Agenbag, and invited them to paint a nature-inspired mural on the walls and surrounding the bar. They mirrored the banana trees and the ivy growing on the other side of the garden, using David Hockney’s pool as inspiration.’

The designer approaches each project as a new entity and has an intentionally fluid design process. He says he likes to spend time observing people and their habits before going on to conceptualise spaces and the living experience for them. ‘My greatest inspiration – other than my wife and design icons such as Charlotte Perriand and Gio Ponti – is nature,’ says Rory.

Apart from the perfect location, what drew the couple to the house? ‘The first thing I remember about the plot were the three trees in front of the house: a palm, a Norfolk pine and a Pepper tree. This totally unusual and charming combination immediately drew me to the property,’ says Rory. ‘The house itself was sweet but a little uninspiring in its “cottage style” but we could visualise what it could become.’ Rory says they wanted to create a unique home that would cater to them as a family and tick all their boxes. ‘We love the flow of open spaces, the idea of tropical living, and a sense of individuality through unexpected details.’

Some of the conversations they had about their vision included the external colour of the house, for which they ended up choosing a charcoal grey to make the greenery of the garden pop. ‘We plan to repaint the house a different colour every few years for a change in mood.’ They kept the three trees that had attracted them to the house, added local wild plants, and grow their own fruit and vegetables.

‘The design and build took nine months. We are a great team, and creating a home is a joint passion of ours, which I believe is reflected in the outcome. I am more passionate about and focused on the architecture and spatial planning, while Katrina loves to source and style the art, objects and accessories. We generally work on the larger furniture pieces together. It’s an intuitive organic experience, rather than based on boards, themes or trends.’

Of course, there are challenges to designing a space you own, rather than a client. ‘The brief is essentially limitless and never-ending, which makes editing ideas and retaining a sense of simplicity difficult,’ says Rory.

Aside from planning regulations, his first concern was those three trees, and how to work with them to build the orientation and the living experience of the house. ‘I wanted to make use of their natural shade while ensuring they didn’t block light in key areas.’

The house itself is constructed by the company Framecon, from a light, steel frame, which Rory says he loved working with but which presented its own set of hurdles. ‘There is little room for site adjustments so you have to trust your design and be very detailed in the information you provide the steel producers. But it’s a much more environmentally friendly way of building and involves a lot less site work, which appealed to me.’ Of the process, Rory says that most of the structure is prefabricated off-site and then quickly assembled when it arrives. ‘It is very exciting to watch it all go into place. Getting the structural design right for the exposed trusses in the main living room took a lot of back and forth and negotiation with the engineer. It is a big open space and we really wanted the height we have now, which is a 30-degree pitch. We also wanted scissor trusses, as we prefer the look.’

He describes the overall look and feel of the house as voluminous, tropical and characterful. ‘My wife and I have both grown up living in different parts of the world, including Spain, Italy, France and the Caribbean. Our combined style is therefore quite eclectic and colourful; a fusion and a collective of the places we have been and the memories we have created over the years.’