A View From the Top

Uninterrupted sea views, great light, a scenic landscape and a favourable climate.

Observing the sun-kissed, easy going couple Rob and Gina McClelland at their holiday home at Grotto Bay Estate in South Africa, you would be forgiven for thinking this couple leads a life of leisure. But Rob and Gina, both former models, have traded life in front of the lens for one behind the camera at their beach breakaway house that doubles as a photo still production house. 

The couple have learned to balance the demands of the 500+ photoshoots that have been done on the property with spending quality time with their two young daughters, Meeca (11) and Hannah (7), as well as their three furry friends.   

Because their work is so seasonal, winter affords the family extended escapes to their beachside farm further up the West Coast in the more remote Elands Bay, where they spend their time surfing, paddle boarding and biking. “We love the West Coast. It is a really special place where you have the sense that there is an adventure to be had,” says Rob. “There is a wildness to it that some of the other coastal areas such as False Bay don’t have anymore. Plus the off shore winds make for great surfing conditions.” 

The McClelland’s main seaside property is on Grotto Bay Estate on the West Coast just 45 minutes from Cape Town, which forms part of the Cape West Coast Biosphere reserve. Besides the spectacular setting of the site, perched on a strandveld-covered sand dune, the plot also had pragmatic advantages. Because of the location of the bay it allows something that few other locations along the West Coast have—the ability to orientate the house to the north without compromising on the sea and sunset view. 

“Climatically, it makes the most sense in the southern hemisphere to orientate a building toward the north, which means you get good light but not the severe heat of an east–west orientation,” Rob explains. “I envisioned a house that would take a progressive step back to let it as much northern light as possible and to maximize the sea views.” While the estate is governed by an aesthetic building code that allows for three styles of houses, Farm-style, West Coast style and Beach style, Rob knew right from the start that he wanted to create a contemporary clapboard-clad timber construction house that oozed calm, carefree seaside living.  

Rob approached architectural designer Alan Paine of Logo Homes to translate his vision into an award-winning design. His ideas for the house didn’t end there. He wanted an unusual sloping freeform, rim-flow pool, which creates the illusion that pool and ocean merge at the edge. But this proved quite a challenge to realize.

“When I explained this idea to pool people they just gave me a blank stare, so I ended up designing and building the pool myself,” he says. “Their only advice for constructing a pool above ground was to pack sand bags to support the structure. I got a building team to construct a steel armature in the shape of the pool, filled it in with concrete and finished it in this sandy colour.”

Due to the estate’s aesthetic guidelines that restrict building heights to six metres, the main living spaces benefit from a lofty double volume, giving them an airy feel, while additional guest bedrooms are tucked upstairs in the roof space. The all-white painted floors and walls contribute a sense of seamless openness, with stack doors opening up on to wooden decks fringing the house. 

Instead of defaulting to the traditional blue and white colour palette that is pervasive in holiday homes on the West Coast, the couple sought to reflect the context and natural veld of the surroundings. Layers of white are punctuated with the textures of wood in all its forms, from wind-worn and weathered to honed and handcrafted and more finely finished. Woven grass and rattan furnishings contribute to animate the blank canvas.  

The McClellands also acquired an extra piece of land behind the house, which allowed them to add a guest cottage a short distance from the main living space. This also allowed Rob the freedom to renovate and expand the house. He moved the kitchen into an old bedroom and converted the garage into an additional two bedrooms. The new kitchen opens up to the morning sun, making it a favourite perch for Rob. 

“Because we are on a slope it means when you’re standing at the kitchen counter you are eye-level with the landscape of fynbos, and if you sit on the other side you can bake in the morning sun like lizard with a view of the sea,” he enthuses. 

The family’s casual laid-back manner permeates their comfortable beachside house which has clearly been built to maximize the opportunity to experience the special qualities that continue to draw the McClellands to the West Coast—and, in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, to “Live in the sunshine, swim the sea; drink the wild air’s salubrity.” 

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