Peak Serenity

The Simple Life of Mountain House

A short way down the inclines of Cape Town’s Steenberg Mountains, an obscure home sits calmly among the local flora. Integrated as part of the landscape, Chris van Niekerk’s CIFA 2023 Award-winning creation is a haven that boasts a sense of sophisticated minimalism while sporting an earthy, slightly rugged feel – an elegant contribution to the natural environment. Stepping towards serenity, life in Mountain House is all about simplicity…


Exploring the landscape

A luxury not afforded as often as most architects and designers would like, the project began with a widely open brief, offering generous freedom for creative exploration. Chris van Niekerk was awarded the project by clients who wanted more than just a home between countries; they wanted a space to co-exist with the mountainscape of one of the most incredible cities in the world.

Life among the mountain

Situated on a landscape spanning 4 000 m², Mountain House forms part of the earth with two levels that slot seamlessly into the elevation. Surrounding the house, marks of previous construction decorate the Steenberg site, a sign of past ventures that had come before this project was conceived. In respect to what had been built before, the plans for the project acknowledged these remnants and avoided where possible further disruption on the site in the hope of preserving history rather than erasing it.


Natural site, considered design

To follow the freedom granted by the clients, Van Niekerk kept his designs simply distinct, with three key sections that stand out. Laid out in the shape of a ‘U’, the structure caters for multiple factors: resident privacy, weather adaptation, spacing, views, and solar direction. The first part of the U consists of a guest bedroom and study, the structure peeking out from a garden wall that merges with the landscape, and a swimming pool resting next to it. The second part prioritises refuge from the elements and comfort as a terrace-style in- and outdoor combination living area, offering views of False Bay and the surrounding mountains. Finally, the kitchen and living area form the third part of the structure, accompanied by the main bedroom.

The sometimes jagged, sometimes geometric qualities of the design imitate the rocky mountain surrounds with a touch of elegance that matches that of its setting. A clean finish and simplified material palette contribute to its natural integration without disappearing into the background.  I n keeping with the theme of respecting surroundings while introducing a new structure, the vegetation was restored from previous damage and indigenous flora from the area were reintroduced, providing a water-wise solution to an area sensitive to drought. As these plants flourish, the structure and landscape will blend further to achieve the goal of architect and client.

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The significance of Mountain House is achieved through no small feat; natural and man-made environments co-exist without extravagant styles or overt efforts. By opting for a muted colour palette of light greys, an interesting yet uncomplicated structure, and the serenity of blended interior and exterior, this build pursues its goals with a straightforward dedication. In doing so, the residents are given the ultimate dwelling near the blue above that projects the idea: sometimes the most valuable experiences are the ones with the simplest, most natural approach.

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