The King of Kloof Street

Location: Kloof Street, Clifton, Cape Town. 

Accessed from Kloof Road, which winds along the western slopes of Lion’s Head, this site is positioned in the wind-protected suburb of Clifton. Years before any development was introduced, this slope was conceivably covered by indigenous forest and fynbos. Today, however, the area is developed and enjoys spectacular views over the sandy beaches, boulder outcrops, and Twelve Apostles mountains towards the south and sunset views over the Atlantic Ocean. Designed by SAOTA with landscaping by Nicholas Whitehorn Landscape Design, this house really is the King of Kloof Street.  

The first aspect of this project that required addressing was the steep slope that would have to be excavated to accommodate the structure. The home was conceived as an arrangement of staggered blocks that rise along the side of the mountain, with the upper, private levels becoming appropriately shielded from both visibility and street-level noise.    

Aluminium facade: SAGE Aluminium

‘The conceptual approach to the design was to reinstate the qualities of a natural landscape,’

These are the words of architect Phillippe Fouché of South African architectural firm SAOTA, who lead the project. The lower part of the building, an independent apartment, is then expressed as ‘a heavy stone plinth’, its gabion-walled exterior and cocooning interior of dark-stained oak and off shutter concrete reflecting the strata of the mountainside out of which they emerge. On top of this is a transitional space that is expressed as a green terrace and braai area, representative of what would have been the landscape’s foliage level. All levels of the house are connected via a sculptural timber staircase, like a folded ribbon that, appropriate to the home’s design narrative, gradually lightens in tone as it rises. 

A vertically slatted box hovers over the terrace, allowing the forest bushwillow trees below to grow into this level, with screens that can be opened or closed to adjust the amount of natural light filtering into the interior, ‘as if you were sitting in the shade of a large tree’. The structure was engineered from a durable yet lightweight aluminium in a finish that mimics the different tones of bark, a durable solution to weathering Cape Town’s capricious seasons. 

Rim-flow pool by Island Pools with mosaic by Douglas Jones

‘Above this, the living level is set back considerably to follow the slope of the mountain, resulting in added privacy and acoustic buffering while creating the perception that one is on a platform, connected to the surrounding views,’ says Phillippe. ‘The space is visually extended via the introduction of a courtyard towards the mountainside, which allows for ventilation, light and, again, an opportunity for planting.’ The concrete ceiling of this level, shuttered with rough-sawn planks, championing its raw texture. This emphasis on natural materiality can also be seen in the wooden floors and timber-clad scullery in this space. The scullery also forms the base of a mezzanine-level private study, which is accessed via a bridge that spans the length of the room.  

The uppermost level, the master bedroom, sits above the tree-tops and as such the materials – white marble, pale timber – and use of skylights express a feeling of air and openness while fold-away glass walls welcome in the full expanse of the view.  

In term of the landscaping onsite, Nicholas Whitehorn explains that SAOTA had already very cleverly designed a multiple story house that is deceptively discreet, with the top floors set back almost invisible from the road. The house is nestled into the environment as much as possible, and suitable plant material also needed to be incorporated to give the house a sense of having been placed subtly in lush nature. The client requested some exotic shrubs which have been incorporated into a predominantly indigenous garden.  

To soften a wall, visible from within the house, it has been turned into a green wall to help blur the distinction between inside and out. 

The house is west facing and is positioned on the south side of a ridge in Clifton. For this reason, particular attention had to be made for the selection of plant material as there is no direct sun on almost half of the garden in winter and the harsh north west wind over the same period. The summer has most of the garden in the full west sun.  

The feature planter at the swimming pool, Nicholas and his team opted to cut a massive 70yr old Olea Europea down to just over a meter high, which they allowed to resprout and create a new crown before it was required for installation.  

The entire lower facade and flanks of the house have been cleverly covered in gabion with charcoal stone which has allowed the team to make use of different climbers to easily climb up and down them for further softening. 

The house has two very tall plastered retaining walls on either side so to screen and blur them, the landscaping team has planted selected groves of trees for height.  

The two most focal trees in the main planter, separating the lower and top floors have been planted with Diosyros whyteana which will grow through an opening into the next level similarly to the hanging gardens of Babylon.  

The internal planter was always going to be tricky wall to cover successfully. With the very limited direct light Nicholas’ team opted for the bleeding heart climber and installed stainless steel cables vertically at almost 8 meters high to create a successful green wall as a beautiful backdrop from within the house. The top floor bedroom opens up onto a pond and grass area for which the team sourced and planted zoysia/ Korean mound grass for practical maintenance reasons.  

Over all the landscaping elements complement the distinct architecture of this site and have helped to create its dynamic aesthetic.  

Meet the Team

Architects: SAOTA 

Project Team : Phillippe Fouché, Nilene Slabbert, Mias Claassens & Thabiso Nkoane 

Engineers: Jeffares & Green Afrika, De Villiers & Moore 

Quantity Surveyor : SBDS 

Contractor: Cape Island Construction (CIC) 

Interior Designers: Cecile & Boyd 

Lighting Consultant : Professional Illumination Design 

Landscaping:  Nicholas Whitehorn Landscape Design 

Photographer : Adam Letch