House Tour: The Breathtaking Mansion Clinging to a Clifftop

All sharp edges, dramatic details and expansive proportions, architect Stefan Antoni’s breathtaking new abode combines rawness and sophistication in equal measures to orchestrate a powerful experience worthy of its spectacularly beautiful setting, all while making a comfortable home for close-knit family life. 

Photography by Greg Cox

“I’ve always wanted to be in Clifton,” says Cape Town architect Stefan Antoni. “It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world.” He should know. Over the course of his career, Antoni has designed more than a few sea-facing houses along the city’s Atlantic seaboard, and has earned himself something of a reputation as a master of design when it comes to the sought-after houses clinging to the mountainside overlooking the ocean.

In fact, it was while he was visiting a site in Clifton where he had designed a house for a client that he spotted the stand where he recently built his own house on Nettleton Road. “I looked up and saw a for-sale board that had fallen down on its side,” recalls Antoni. Not knowing whether the stand was still available or not, he called the number and, when he found that it was, nabbed it as fast as he could.

When it came to designing his own home, where he now lives with his wife Carla and their two children, Gia and Luke, however, he didn’t necessarily stick to his tried-and-tested methodologies. “I thought, it’s my own house, I can experiment here!” says Antoni. But first he had to deal with the practicalities of the site.

It had breathtaking ocean views and backed right onto Lion’s Head, the mountain behind it, but it was a tricky piece of land to build on. “It’s very steep,” explains Antoni. The ground rakes up sharply from the street, which meant that he had to come up with something smart if it wasn’t going to be another bland white box on the mountainside. “The crucial starting point of the design was to get the house to relate to the mountain,” he says.

His solution, at the risk of oversimplifying things, was to build an upside-down house: flipping the usual arrangements and having the living space on the top level and the bedrooms below. By raising the living space and letting the building step back as it rose, Antoni could create a garden on the top level behind the living room with a lawn, which does indeed connect the house with the mountain.

This solution also sidesteps the dreaded alternative of “an enormous dark retaining wall at the back of the house”. “For me, it was very important to have a garden with a lawn and some trees because I have a 10-year-old son and we’re always playing soccer or cricket or rugby,” says Antoni.

Once he’d created a platform for this top level, he designed a zig-zag arrangement for the living areas, one portion cantilevering over a rim-flow pool, which seems to extend seamlessly into the blue of the ocean, and another portion extending to the back of the site. “This arrangement provides for a north-facing garden, which is quite rare in Clifton,” he says. “The way that I’ve modulated it, it creates a wind-free zone, so that worked out very nicely.”

The resulting height of the building meant that he could create a wonderful interplay of vertical levels, volumes and light. “The house is broken into four portions,” he explains. At street level, the garage and entrance. Next, a couple of guest bedrooms. Then, in the middle, a games room and, just above it, the bedrooms, linked vertically by a huge 12-metre double volume space. On the top and set back is the living space: lounge; kitchen; dining room.

The vertical connections help to integrate the house and hold it together, so even if they’re on different levels, the family seldom feel cut off from each other. “You want to be part of the greater experience,” says Antoni. “When the kids and their friends are in the games room, you can lean over the balustrade and call to them. We never want to feel isolated from them.”

The façade, too, needed something to unify it. “Because every level is made up of two levels,” says Antoni, the balconies and windows opened only at every second level, which he points out would have looked “really weird” from the outside. He felt the façade needed something to “pull the whole structure together”.

He didn’t want the house to appear large or looming, however, or ostentatious. His solution was to clad it with a laser-cut aluminium screen, which, “consolidates it”. “It’s peeled open to allow the bedroom level to have a view,” he points out. “Then, on the level below that, which is the games level, there’s a glass box that slides out. The fins create a sense of mystery, projecting forward and peeling backward. The ‘eyebrow’ of the pool lounge, which slides over the pool, peeps over the top of the façade and gives you a sense of floating space on the top level.”

The pattern on the façade is an abstracted graphic interpretation of the “landscape around and up on the mountain”. It’s designed to soften the appearance of the building and help it recede into the surrounding landscape without being literal or over-determined.

Partly because of the strong presence of the mountain and the ocean, and partly because of his personal taste, Antoni wanted a building with primal qualities. “I love ancient monuments and raw, simple spaces,” he says. “I chose quite specifically to go with quite raw, robust materials and textures. “It’s really about sculpting space: to make the rawest, most beautiful space that allows the indoors and outdoors to coexist,” he says. “For me, and for my family, the house is just a vessel in which to experience the mountain and the view and the incredible trees outside.”

Of course, the best way to articulate raw textures and capitalise on their expressiveness is to include contrasts: think sleek, sophisticated balustrades and handrails playing off the raw concrete and simple masses and volumes with a gallery-like quality. Antoni explains that the wooden planks used for the shuttering for the board-pressed ceiling in the living room were “brushed down a little bit” and used for the ceiling on the level below. “We stacked them up and down slightly with the grain very evident,” he says. “It definitely had a certain lightness and delicacy about it.”

The living space upstairs can be opened up almost completely. The glass walls are sliding doors that disappear into cavity walls. When they’re open, the living space is transformed into a pavilion. It’s as if the presence of the mountain behind pours into the house. “It feels like this plane that just slides in from the mountain into the back garden, through into the house and then out to the terrace and the pool, where it joins the ocean,” says Antoni.

But the house is not just about open spaces. “I always like the mystery of one space leading to another without completely revealing itself,” he says. “It’s all about volumes sliding though each other. It adds a little bit of fun to the whole experience, because architecture has to be about delight, otherwise it’s purely utilitarian. Here, I wanted to play with the person experiencing it, always unravelling a couple of surprises.”

Antoni has been very clever about the natural light. Some of what he’s done is pragmatic: the ocean views in Clifton face west, which means exposure to the afternoon sun. “It’s very important that when the late afternoon sun comes around, you can retreat to other places in the house,” says Antoni. “On our living level we have very few blinds, but we don’t need them because we always have spaces where we can go to that are beautifully shaded.”

He’s also created skylights and glass slot windows that allow natural light to pour in from unexpected sources – orchestrating what Antoni calls “the mystery of light”. The skylight against the wall of African masks in the living area is a perfect example. “As the light gets more and more vertical, it strikes those masks, and they become very animated because they’ve got these deep, strong shadows.”

As a collector of art and design objects, Antoni hasn’t designed the interiors with any finite end in mind. Rather, the whole idea was to design a space that could keep evolving. “I didn’t want it matched to perfection,” he says. “It had to have a certain arbitrary, collected quality.” “It is almost like a gallery. It’s a house where you can keep on collecting and changing over time. And that’s what I enjoy about it. Very little is ever collected consciously for a space. It moves around and moves around until we think we’ve found the right place, and even then, it moves around thereafter as well.”

Antoni has a fondness for mid-century modernist design and art. “The house is unashamedly modernist,” he says. The artworks, too, trace his interest in modernist aesthetics, as do some mid-century furniture pieces. There are artworks by the likes of Cecil Skotnes, the most noteworthy being a large tapestry that once hung in the President Hotel in Johannesburg.

It represents a particular history of African modernism, which, in turn, Antoni says, traces his own “personal little journey of discovery” – that is, an exploration of modernist African aesthetics. “The art and architecture enhance each other,” he elaborates.

“The two play off each other beautifully.” The house has become a journey of discovery as well: an opportunity for Antoni to pursue his own aesthetics. The result is not just a comfortable family home, but also an exciting architectural exploration.

How to choose a signature scent for your home

You will have heard of wearing a signature scent,  but have you ever considered designating one for your home? 

Using home fragrance is a way to extend interior decor to the senses and incite a positive memory people connect with your personal spaces.  Home is where special memories are formed, and in turn smells have the ability to trigger strong recollections.

It’s also a beautiful way to reinforce the vibe and intention of each area of your home with a unique scent story. By associating a scent with each room in your house, you’re creating a more memorable experience for the people who visit them, including yourself!

Fragrance brand Jo Malone London is well known for its evocative colognes, but did you know its best-selling scents like Lime Basil & Mandarin and Wood Sage & Sea Salt are available in a number of options to scent interior spaces too?

The range includes candles, diffusers, room sprays and linen sprays, each offering a scent that lingers just enough without being overwhelming.

A scene-setting gift

The Lime Basil & Mandarin range of home, cologne and body products. 

While perfume can be tricky to choose for another person, selecting a home fragrance is the perfect gift, particularly for the house-proud aesthete.

Gifting an elegant candle or chic diffuser is an easy option for a wide range of occasions and personality types. From marking a birthday to acknowledging a host, or a simple thank you, there’s nothing more appropriate than a home scent, perfectly housed in one of Jo Malone London’s unmistakable cream and black ribbon gift-wrapped boxes.

If there’s a special mother in your life, the enduring home scents are a no-brainer gift for Mother’s Day that will make you look like you’ve actually put in quite a lot of effort in indeed!

The options are exciting, but where to start? It’s well worth taking the advice of Jo Malone London scent ‘stylists’ at your nearest Jo Malone London boutique. They offer world of knowledge about each fragrance’s profile and how to make the most of each of the items in the cologne, bath & body and home ranges.

What’s more, taking a leaf from the brand’s penchant for scent-pairing, there’s potential for giving the gift of something really unique by selecting two types of products from the home range to use together at the same time.

Learn how to scent your home 

The Wood Sage & Sea Salt range of home, cologne and body products. 

If you are short on time staff are quick with fitting suggestions, but making the most of one of the free personalised consultation services at the boutique’s central table is where you’ll really delight in what’s possible. There are a number of consultation services on offer but if you’re looking for interior guidance, the ‘Scent your home’ approach will take you though a number of selections that best suit the environment you’re looking to enhance.

Its where you’ll learn the bright and welcoming Lime, Basil & Mandarin is perfect for an entryway,  Peony & Blush Suede creates a perfect lavish, yet serene ambiance in a bathroom or dressing room and rich and cosy notes  such as Myrrh & Tonka are ideal in a lounge.

Britomart Store Manager Maz Nathasingh extends these ideas with options from the new Townhouse ceramic candle collection, (only at Jo Malone London Britomart Boutique and Ballantynes Christchurch), inspired by different rooms in an iconic London residence. 

“‘Glowing Embers’ smells like a burning log fire so it’s good in the living room,” says Nathasingh. “If you want a more opulent scent, perhaps for a party, you could try it mixed with Pomegranate Noir in either a diffuser, a room scent or another candle burning side-by-side.”

Jo Malone London’s new Townhouse collection of candles that includes (L-R) Lilac Lavender & Lovage, Wild Berry & Bramble, Glowing Embers, Fresh Fig & Cassis, Pastel Macaroons and Green Tomato Vine. (Only at Jo Malone London Britomart Boutique and Ballantynes Christchurch) 

For the kitchen, Nathasingh recommends fragrances with fresh notes that will combine well with cooking aromas.

“’Green Tomato Vine’ is best in the kitchen. If you have other fragrances while you’re cooking, it can clash, but this will complement the herbs in the kitchen and other scents,” she explains. “Or  ‘Pastel Macaroons’ reminds you of beautiful baking.” 

In the bedroom, Nathasingh suggests something calming to soothe you to sleep. “’Lilac Lavender & Lovage’ is perfect,” she says.

You can combine home scents by having two candles, or having a diffuser and then adding the scent of a candle. 

“It just depends how you want to switch up the mood,” advises Nathasingh. “If you have a diffuser and candle combination, the diffuser will be the general scent of your room, but if you want to switch it up for a specific mood, that’s when you’d light the scented candle.” 

The diffusers emit scent for around 4-5 months, while a home candle has an expected burn time of around 45 hours.