On any given weekend, Trevyn and Julian McGowan’s ‘Black House’ (a name that has stuck since they chose the distinctive dark shade for their home’s exterior) literally teems with young people. The couple’s energetic brood numbers five, ranging in ages from 3 to 19. “But there are always lots of other kids too,” says Trevyn. “Most of ours bring friends to stay, so over weekends we generally have between 10 and 14 kids at a time. They move through the house like shoals of fish,” she quips.
Trevyn’s description is apt. With its floor-to-ceiling foldaway glass ‘walls’ and double volume spaces, the McGowans have designed their home to merge seamlessly with the ocean. Set high on a dune, it overlooks more than 12 miles of pristine beach and a sparkling expanse of sea that dissolves softly into sky at the horizon line.
The overall effect is one of transcendent space, light and water evoking a feeling of being part of, rather than a spectator to, the majestic scenery. Although undoubtedly a showstopper – owing to its contemporary architecture, generous scale and unique position – this is, first and foremost, a family home.
Trevyn and Julian bought the original thatched cottage on a spur of the moment in 2003 during a weekend tour of South Africa’s beautiful Garden Route. At the time, the couple had been living and working in London for 22 years, and were on their annual South African holiday with their three young children.
Raised in Johannesburg, Trevyn relocated to train as an actress in London, where she met and married British- born theatre designer Julian McGowan and ran an interior design and architectural firm, Site Specific. Creating bespoke spaces for high-profile friends including Clive Owen, Gerard Butler, Rachel Weisz and Sir Ian McKellen, Trevyn incorporated South African design pieces in many of her projects – one way of staying connected to her roots.
The McGowan’s have described their decision to trade the creative buzz of London for a seemingly remote coastal village in South Africa as ‘crazily spontaneous’ but their decision was underpinned by a deep desire to raise their children the old fashioned way: spending quality time together at home, in a body- and soul-enriching environment, without the distractions of the city.
In its current form, Black House has been a decade in the making. Initial renovations began in 2005, after the couple had wound up their affairs in London and dedicated time to understanding the full potential of their new property. Just four and a half hours’ drive from bustling Cape Town, Wilderness is unique in that it offers spectacular views over the ocean as well as lush, green vistas towards the headland, which is threaded by a lagoon and framed by dramatic mountains.
Like most of the properties along this strip of coast, the house has a south-facing outlook towards the sea. “It’s great because we enjoy stunning sunsets without the direct glare,” says Trevyn. The north-facing benefits are, however, to the rear of the house and unlike many of its neighbours, Black House does not turn its back on the mountains.
“Staying in the original cottage, we realised how much light and warmth came from the rear,” recalls Trevyn, “so we opened the house up at the back and created the garden which has a really sunny aspect. We also kept the house high on the site to maximize the back light.”
With their steadily growing family and rapidly expanding global design businesses, the McGowans embarked on a second, even more ambitious, renovation in 2011. Lasting almost a year, it saw the addition of a three-story glass ‘tower’ and roof garden on the western side of the house – projected out towards the sea – and a rim-flow pool deck that has become a focal point and family hangout.
The top level of the new wing accommodates a dramatic living room that offers the experience of being on a ship, while the middle floor houses an expansive, bright office space that opens out onto the pool deck. Lower down on the slope of the dune than the original foundation line, and nestled in the newly landscaped indigenous garden, the ground level space is a combined gym and en suite guest bedroom, looking directly into the tumbling surf. In contrast, the roof garden towers over the ocean, boasting truly jaw-dropping views, a Jacuzzi and open fireplace. It has become a favoured spot for everything from sunbathing and sundowners to studying.
Now spanning four levels, the house is divided into a number of ‘zones’ where the family can relax, entertain, work, exercise or play – anchored by the central, open volume, communal family space. “The key to this home’s success is that it offers both communal and breakaway spaces,” says Trevyn. ??????
“There are various areas that allow people to divide off but still feel connected. We’ve also created ‘islands’ where we can congregate – like the giant sofas in the main living room where we all hang out and read together, and the dining room table where we enjoy an early family dinner every evening. Julian is a fantastic cook and we really love our times together.”
Trevyn and Julian’s work lives are fast-paced and pressurized. Operating in a highly competitive global arena, the couple are regarded as among the most influential forces in contemporary Southern African design.
The McGowans’ product development and distribution company, Source, is the primary agency for the international representation of South African design – most of the country’s design exports go through the Source offices bound for leading retailers like Bergdorf Goodman, West Elm, ABC Carpet and Home, Restoration Hardware, The Conran Shop, Anthropologie, and many others.
They also stage major annual exhibitions through their Southern Guild platform, showcasing collectible Southern African design and art in South Africa, and alongside leading galleries at international shows like Design Miami, Collective in New York, Design Days Dubai, and the London Design Festival.
Trevyn and Julian also run the Southern Guild Design Foundation – in partnership with ArcelorMittal South Africa – a non-profit organization they established in 2011 to support the development of designers in South Africa. Trevyn is also orchestrator of Design Network Africa (DNA), a Danish-funded program aimed at developing designers throughout Africa. In addition, the couple are part of Cape Town’s World Design Capital 2014 curatorial team, serving on the International Advisory Board.
“Our work really matters to us,” says Trevyn, “and we delight in making choices based on what we love, whether we’re buying a potato peeler or a painting. We constantly ask ‘how do we make this better’ and it applies to everything we do. We love being part of a process of keeping things moving and shaping the way people see things, sometimes presenting them in a way that is digestible, but sometimes deliberately provoking new ways.”
When work is done, the siren call of Black House and its extraordinary oceanfront setting beckons. “Our family time is very contained,” adds Trevyn. “We work exhaustively, and in a very focused way, so when we’re not working we really just enjoy being at home together, without distractions. Home is an amazingly beautiful place.”
For more information on the McGowans and their design work, visit source-sa.com.
Image Credits: Photos by Greg Cox, Production by Sven Alberding.