This KZN family home delivers a strong connection to its context with an architectural approach that honours the ocean and forest.
Located on KZN’s North Coast, in the sought-after Elaleni Coastal Forest Estate, this five-bedroomed home is intentional about what matters most – its context. Set within a 17.5-hectare natural Natal fig forest – the last remaining swamp fig forest of its kind in the area – it’s a home that facilitates an outdoorsy lifestyle around its spectacular natural surrounds. Owned by James and Genevieve, together with their one-year-old daughter Madison and dogs Gus and Gabi, they approached architect Julia Rutherfoord to create a contemporary, open-plan family home in tune with nature.
In keeping with Julia’s ethos of honest architecture that celebrates spatial experience, the layout follows a U shape that embraces the garden and magnificently treed view, working a 50-year-old fig tree into its midst. This connection is forged by way of generous glass frontage, wide sliding doors, open planning and a surplus of natural light. From the kitchen, one can see all the way beyond the dining area and lounge, through to the generous patio and out to the swimming pool, which is backed by a breath-taking emerald-green forest canopy. Large slabs of polished concrete both indoors and out help to connect what’s inside with the environment, using material continuity to forge a sense of seamlessness. That the site is raised atop a slope also affords the family unhindered forest views, as well as a sense of privacy that’s rare in estates.
The home’s concept references its natural context in other ways too. Just minutes from Sheffield Beach, its design is inspired by a deconstructed paper boat out at sea and nods to the homeowners’ time spent working on yachts. Julia drew from this reference and subtly translated the seaside elements into the home’s design. “The roof is the underside of the boat, the stone side wing is the dolos. The timber clad bedrooms – the jetty holding the boat in place. The forest is the aquarium, we are the fish,” she explains. The roof’s single pitch further ensures that both light and forest views are capitalised on.
Stained jet-black timber in the form of sustainably sourced local pine encases parts of the home, providing a sense of drama and depth as well as helping the building to recede into its sylvan surrounds while other raw elements such as stone and floated concrete give this home a sense of laid-back authenticity. For the most part, the palette is light and bright, partnered with neutral shades and punctuated with glimpses of the black timber and other black and charcoal finishes. This restrained palette is geared toward celebrating the greenery that envelopes the home.
Here, it’s all about nature. Protected by the developers, the estate’s buildings need to accommodate for the trees and as such residents are encouraged to build around them as well as re-establish the natural flora post-construction. There’s also an extensive boardwalk that rambles through the forest beneath its lush canopy connecting residents to this pristine wilderness, as well as an edible landscape whereby residents can harvest citrus, other fruit and veg from the estate’s landscaping. These are highly unusual efforts for an estate, but they ensure that homeowners coexist in harmony with the natural environment.
While Genevieve is careful to note that there is not a single area of the home that gets neglected thanks to a highly functional and carefully planned layout, she admits that it’s in and around the open plan kitchen where they gather most often to spend time with friends and family over a meal.
As homeowners they’re enveloped in their daily lives by an assortment of established Natal Figs, avocado and mango trees, while non-human visitors include monkeys, grey duiker and a genet, a resident palm-nut vulture, a pair of fish eagles and a kingfisher. It’s a kind of Swiss Family Robinson lifestyle for 21st century family living.