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Sustainable Knysna home

Knysna eco home on Top Billing 1

ABOVE: The house built on passive energy design principles uses land and sea breezes to cool it. Though the view is south facing, the roof shapes and overhangs are designed to engage maximum 
northern light into the interior.


Off Grid
Sustainable living has never looked this good

words colin o’mara davis photographs gunther gräter production stephen graham

Recessed into the hillside of Knysna’s coastline lies a house that not only cites its awe-inspiring natural surrounds but also ‘treads lightly’ on it. For architect Paulo Esteves, the essence of the built structure is informed by the site’s ecology: its expansive stretches of fynbos, the torrent of ocean spray and the voidness of the gorge. ‘It’s a non-verbal exchange,’ says Paulo when considering the site. ‘It’s meant to refer to what you see from the inside looking out.’

Knysna eco home on Top Billing 2
ABOVE MIDDLE: The glazed passage on the north elevation serves as a heat trap, accommodating constant interior temperature. In an effort to return the landscape to provenance, its indigenous fynbos was reintroduced to the area.

Architecture’s subject is always to best imagine man in his environment, whereby the created spaces are meant to not only inspire but in so doing, construe a vicarious realisation of lived experience. While this is true for most residential structures, here the architect’s intention is perhaps more poetry than place.

The geometry of the house explicitly relates to the curve of the hillside with panoramic views of the ocean and flanked by coastal forest to either side. This is no staid monolithic structure; the retaining wall makes this house appear to recede from view, maximises northern light and has the spinoff advantage of shielding the house from sea winds. Neatly enveloped, the house makes no claims to grandeur and rather leaves boasting to the unperturbed skyline and verdant landscape.

To the northern elevation, a glazed passage running the length of the building acts as a passive heat trap, effectively regulating constant interior temperatures and largely eliminating the necessity for additional heating.

To the south, staggered living spaces jut out towards the blue abyss. Entering the house on the upper level, the richly decorated formal lounge by designer Suzy Lubner introduces the house’s interior aesthetic as discernibly sophisticated yet irreverently stylised.

Knysna eco home on Top Billing 3
ABOVE LEFT: To complement the cool appeal of the stone wall, Suzy layered heavily textured soft furnishings.
ABOVE MIDDLE: All of the house’s electrical energy is generated by solar-powered battery. The dining gallery is dressed in rustic finishes and styles in strong contrast to the architecture’s strong geometry. The resulting look is eclectic and informal, though stylised.
ABOVE RIGHT: Local suppliers and manufacturers were employed wherever possible to keep the house’s carbon footprint contained.

Ingeniously designed roof overhangs prevent direct sunlight from beating into the interior in summer months, while in winter – when the sun’s arc traces a more shallow trajectory – allow shafts of light to penetrate.
Paulo’s design ethos centres around sensibility, or as he’s apt to remark, ‘sense-ability’ – an endeavour to produce designs which are as intelligent as they are beautiful to the senses. Intelligent, and considerate it would appear: an integrated drainage system separates soil from greywater and recycles it for garden irrigation. Rainwater collected from roofs is stored in tanks and is put to use in the garden.

For all the building’s cleverly conceived feats of engineering and environmentally mindful sculptural contours, it bears stating that this house is designed to be energy efficient. Briefed by the owner to incorporate environmentally friendly light fittings wherever possible, Paulo utilised Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) and energy-saving fluorescent fittings throughout. To further conserve energy, the switching was then divided to enable individual operation and variable intensity control either manually or via an automation system. All the energy for the lighting scheme is generated by a solar-powered battery system. Generating up to 7kWh per day in winter and averaging 
13kWh in summer, the system ably supplies power to the 200-odd downlighters in the house’s lighting scheme, in addition to the pool and water feature pumps – amassing a cool 50 percent of the house’s total electrical consumption.

Knysna eco home on Top Billing 4
ABOVE LEFT: The informal lounge in a desaturated palette of neutral tones and duck-egg accents is dramatised by the charcoal portraiture of Laurie Franklin. The closed-combustion wood-burning stove by Moreso is unsurpassed for heat retention, efficiency and sustainability.
ABOVE MIDDLE: A Bombe commode provides the anchor point for the symmetrically mirrored interior. Bed linen in crisp white with raised texture is offset by a plush faux-fur throw and trimmed in Suzy Lubner’s project signature duck-egg blue and pistachio.

Q&A with Suzy Lubner

How would you define your signature ‘designer style’? African contemporary with Asian influence. I love a clean luxuriousness to encapsulate a home with warmth and interest. I enjoy the use of wallpaper in unexpected spaces and I’m mad for texture. A soft, clean shell is always my preference, something that can then be dressed with wonderful fabrics and furnishings – a house that nestles into its surroundings while being kind to our universe.

What was the initial client brief? We spent two years doing this house... They loved the essence of a home that I had did – it housed a collection of  furniture sourced both locally and abroad. They wanted it to be a home away from home where they could escape the bustle of business life. As they’re nature lovers, it was important that their home would sit gently in its space and live inside-outside – which this house does magnificently.

What are the main colour schemes and texture choices you employed in the interior? I spent months and months on site picking the fynbos and bringing fabrics and colour boards to site in all different weather conditions, so that the inside could flow outside – which I think it does really effectively. Colours are mostly neutrals mixed in with duck egg to ‘pick up’ the ocean, various shades of pistachio which flows out into the fynbos and of course they allowed me some pink!

What was your favourite ‘project’ room? Tough one... I love them all! I was given the freedom by the client to choose and work with beautiful fabrics and furnishings to finish each and every space to the last detail. I personally think they all ‘live’ well and feel special.

How does décor complement the architecture? Paulo and I worked very closely during the entire project. Although I was  on site all the time, being based in Plettenberg Bay, it took me a long while to understand the building he created! I was grateful to have had all that time to grow with the house, to be be involved in the finishing and decorate it with the thorough understanding of its bones. I kept my interiors clean and crisp, while bringing in a warmth to the very specifically designed and architecturally superb house that Paulo designed.


Eccentrics Interior Design,
Suzy Lubner, 044 533 0111,
Paulo Esteves,

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