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There’s one thing that certain about holiday houses in South Africa. They have no need to ape the European villa or English country house. We have more than enough diversity and interest of our own right here to be able to conjure up a style well suited to what we do better than anybody else: barefoot living where casual simplicity has been elevated to an art form. Nowhere is this more evident than in beach house design and style, particularly by the sea at Plettenberg Bay on the Garden Route.
The owner of Bird House in Plettenberg Bay wasn’t looking for a good-mannered facade or gracious symmetry and proportion. An artist renown for his painting, drawing, printmaking, sculpting and performance art, Beezy Bailey’s holiday house on the edge of a vlei two minutes on foot from Robberg Beach has more freewheeling magic about it. Its light-weight design, simple silhouette and laidback style reach back to the vernacular of the wooden fishermen’s cottages that once dotted this coast and it’s both romantic and contemporary. It has a mellow patina and delicious warmth and convenience, but it’s kitted out for contemporary living. If all you want to do is get up late, walk on the beach and make a paella or grill prawns for lunch before falling asleep on a lounger in the shade, then this is almost certainly a place to consider checking into, more so if you like your surroundings to feature the work of an artist who famously collaborated in ‘visually jamming’ with rock star David Bowie, indie-rock giant Dave Matthews and Brian Eno. While you may not get to be part of one of Beezy and Eno’s ‘sound paintings’, there’s enough here to give you a glimpse of the rich vein of creativity that’s stimulating contemporary South Africa art.
At the heart of the house is the living area whose ceiling is an open, timber-lined pitched roof. Its focus is an old-fashioned iron wood-burning stove. There are comfortable sofas and armchairs at one end and a large dining table at the other with, beyond, the kitchen envisaged as a ‘lean-to’ extension to the main body of the house. During summer, doors from the living area to the stoep can be thrown open and beyond the outside dining table, there’s a simmering view across the vlei to the fynbos-clad hills. Here and there, antique Cape furniture keeps alive the context of this otherwise urbane family holiday home.
There are four bedrooms to choose from, one of them twin-bedded with the option of an additional old-fashioned half-poster set into a crook of the L-shaped room. In the main bedroom, a free-standing bath shares the room with the bed and is positioned so that the bather soaking in the water has all the advantage of the lovely views to the surroundings. All the rooms are simply furnished with a mix of old-fashioned English and South African furniture, rugs and kelims, bedspreads of shweshwe print and woven kente textiles, hand-painted ceramics, linen-covered armchairs and, of course, a collection of paintings that would make any art gallery sick with envy.
Recycled door and window frames are in keeping with the local vernacular while, instead of timber, the exterior is clad in a grey-painted tin. A deck fronts the house on the view-ward side, a covered portion shielding the dining table from the sun while an alfresco area has a fire-pit, the focus of which is a braai area surrounded by built-in terraced seating which steps down towards it. In the evening, this is the best place to sit with an ice-cold glass of chardonnay while the sea bass still in its skin is being grilled on the fire with a dollop of olive oil and squeeze of lemon.
The locals call this place Plett and as a holiday destination it never palls – each December the exodus begins from Cape Town or Johannesburg, with travellers hankering after the beaches on the half-moon bay, the rugged walks and the fishing, and the relative quiet of Keurbooms where you can hire a boat and float downriver to find somewhere to picnic. We might complain that Plett gets crowded at peak season or tire of shopping and eating out at the newest places, but there’s nowhere else you’d want to spend summer. It’s all here, with great sea views and excellent swimming. And if we tire of Plett, there’s the entire Garden Route to explore – Knysna with its annual oyster festival in winter, the forests of the Tsitsikamma or the coastline with endless beaches of white, powdery sand.
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Reviewed by Colleen Ogilvy
R4 000 - R12 000