The classic 1966 surf film The Endless Summer followed two American surfers around the world in their quest to find every surfer’s holy grail: the perfect wave. They found it in Cape St Francis, peeling away endlessly along a deserted strip of beach in the Eastern Cape.
Since then, the town has grown to become more than just a surf destination, but it still retains that mythic charm.
South African-born Fiona Ferguson has the happiest memories of family holidays spent in the adjoining marina, St Francis Bay, on the Kromme River, as a child. Its idyllic setting with beautiful canals and wide river seems to represent nature at its best.
Her parents still own a house there, and she and her husband, Mark, followed in their footsteps and bought a bungalow in the marina, too. With four boys, and an extended family, however, they soon found their modestly sized holiday home too small and cramped. After making a few upgrades, they eventually accepted that they’d need a bigger house.
They found one along the river. “We had friends who had a property nearby, so we had a sense of what the river lifestyle was like,” says Fiona. The river is also somewhat safer than the ocean for children to play in, and offered its own host of water sports and fun.
Cape Town architect Bert Pepler, who Fiona and Mark brought on board to design their new house, has also been holidaying in Cape St Francis for years. He says his main idea was for the house to “make the connection from the land to the water. That’s what a holiday here is about – the whole river experience.”
Fiona says she’d seen a picture in a magazine of a wood-panelled house on the water, which acted as a starting point for her brief to Bert, which was otherwise fairly open.
The long, narrow stand the Fergusons found stretches between street and river. “What’s nice about it is that it’s the last of the old properties,’ Bert says. In fact, the house next door is what he calls an ‘old St Francis Bay bungalow”.
The vernacular has its origins somewhere between a fisherman’s cottage and Cape farm architecture, and provided him with a useful reference point.
The shape of the buildings, Bert says, was inspired by the “simple barn-like forms that you’d find on a farm. The intention was to create a series of ‘long fingers’ that draw you into the property and eventually open up to the garden and provide views of the river.”
AJ Bell and Carla De Fondaumiere of GDF Design Lab worked with Fiona on the interiors. “I have very eclectic taste,” says Fiona, who was travelling quite a lot during the time they were at work, and chose a good deal of the furniture herself. The guiding principle, however, was a comfortable atmosphere that could accommodate family and boisterous boys, and yet still be aesthetically pleasing.
“It’s quite playful and fun,” says Carla. “Not over-designed.” There are pops of bright colour, such as the vivid green of the Marcel Wanders ‘Cocktail’ chairs in the lounge, and statement designs by local and international designers alike, but overall the house remains unfussy.
The emphasis, as it should be, is on the experience: stepping out of the bedroom in the morning for a first cup of coffee. “The river is absolutely magnificent, and constantly changing,’ says Fiona. ‘Sometimes when you wake up, it’s choppy and the next time it’s as still as glass. It’s magical.”
“We should just move there, really,” laughs Fiona. “We live far too fussily. For all its beauty and comfort, the house is minimal, and it’s really liberating.”
Text Graham Wood Photographer Greg Cox/Bureaux