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Camping Lite: A Plywood Camp House in Scarborough, South Africa

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Camping Lite: A Plywood Camp House in Scarborough, South Africa

July 20, 2018

On the remote Cape Point Nature Reserve in Scarborough, South Africa, sits an elegant compound built for a family of four by architects Matthew Beatty and Saskia Vermeiren of Beatty Vermeiren. The 1,000-square-foot house is designed as a campsite; the plywood-clad interiors walls are the “tent” and the exterior metal cladding is the “weather sheet,” as the architects says. Like a campsite, the house is without Wi-Fi and features a communal bathhouse. “The idea is for the family to share a communal space that lives very differently from a conventional house,” Beatty says. The architects used sustainable materials in the construction, equipping the house with solar energy, rainwater collection, and gray water irrigation, but it’s the conventional materials—plumbing pipes, plywood, and roof sheeting—that give the structure its distinctive look. Here’s a look.

Photography by Elsa Young, Frank Features, and Nicolaus Matthius, courtesy of Beatty Vermeiren Architects.

“Cape Point is an extreme marine environment,” says Beatty, “so the external cladding—marine-grade aluminum roof sheeting—creates a weatherproof envelope protecting the building from the elements. We chose the color white to keep the building cool in the summer, and with the area prone to bush fires, the cladding makes the building more fire-resistant.”
Above: “Cape Point is an extreme marine environment,” says Beatty, “so the external cladding—marine-grade aluminum roof sheeting—creates a weatherproof envelope protecting the building from the elements. We chose the color white to keep the building cool in the summer, and with the area prone to bush fires, the cladding makes the building more fire-resistant.”
The communal living space in the house has matching sliding doors on either side. “They act as a bridge between the courtyard behind and the view. By closing one side you can cut out the wind but still enjoy the view.” The deck is built with Sugar Gum, an invasive tree species to the area, put to use here in lieu of tropical hardwood decking.
Above: The communal living space in the house has matching sliding doors on either side. “They act as a bridge between the courtyard behind and the view. By closing one side you can cut out the wind but still enjoy the view.” The deck is built with Sugar Gum, an invasive tree species to the area, put to use here in lieu of tropical hardwood decking.
The floors throughout the house are Corcoleum Malpette flooring, a hardwearing composite material made from recycled wood chips. The living and dining spaces are layered with African rugs. The fireplace is a Danish Jøtul GF 160 Gas Stove.
Above: The floors throughout the house are Corcoleum Malpette flooring, a hardwearing composite material made from recycled wood chips. The living and dining spaces are layered with African rugs. The fireplace is a Danish Jøtul GF 160 Gas Stove.
The architects enlisted a boat builder to work on the plywood joinery throughout the house, including the compact kitchen, which was designed on a budget and has countertops and a backsplash made of mild steel that was heated and hot waxed on-site. The kitchen faucet was also made on-site with plumbing parts.
Above: The architects enlisted a boat builder to work on the plywood joinery throughout the house, including the compact kitchen, which was designed on a budget and has countertops and a backsplash made of mild steel that was heated and hot waxed on-site. The kitchen faucet was also made on-site with plumbing parts.
A built-in plywood bench upholstered with a checked fabric anchors the living space.
Above: A built-in plywood bench upholstered with a checked fabric anchors the living space.
The owners’ midcentury lounge chair is upholstered with Shweshwe, a traditional South African print.
Above: The owners’ midcentury lounge chair is upholstered with Shweshwe, a traditional South African print.
The house has three bedrooms, not including the bunkbed thoroughfare that’s just off the communal bath and master bedroom.
Above: The house has three bedrooms, not including the bunkbed thoroughfare that’s just off the communal bath and master bedroom.
The plywood bunks have storage alcoves and a steel ladder.
Above: The plywood bunks have storage alcoves and a steel ladder.
A guest bedroom is kept spare with a ceiling-mount light and vintage wood sconce.
Above: A guest bedroom is kept spare with a ceiling-mount light and vintage wood sconce.
The architects designed the communal “bathhouse” with a large sink made of a stainless steel kitchen prep bowl set into a pre-cast concrete plumbing pipe. The faucet, like the one in the kitchen, is made from copper plumbing pipe.
Above: The architects designed the communal “bathhouse” with a large sink made of a stainless steel kitchen prep bowl set into a pre-cast concrete plumbing pipe. The faucet, like the one in the kitchen, is made from copper plumbing pipe.
The shower in the bathhouse is partially outdoors (through the doorway to the left) with a Grohe Rainshower Cosmopolitan 210 Shower Head and red plumbing valves. The bathroom floors are sealed cement screed.
Above: The shower in the bathhouse is partially outdoors (through the doorway to the left) with a Grohe Rainshower Cosmopolitan 210 Shower Head and red plumbing valves. The bathroom floors are sealed cement screed.
Detail of another faucet made on-site by the architects from plumbing parts. For more like this, see our post Trend Alert: 10 DIY Faucets Made from Plumbing Parts.
Above: Detail of another faucet made on-site by the architects from plumbing parts. For more like this, see our post Trend Alert: 10 DIY Faucets Made from Plumbing Parts.
The master bedroom overlooks sweeping views of the nature reserve. The blue linen sheets and patterned cover are from Country Road (no longer available) and the bedside light is a vintage 1950s Danish table lamp.
Above: The master bedroom overlooks sweeping views of the nature reserve. The blue linen sheets and patterned cover are from Country Road (no longer available) and the bedside light is a vintage 1950s Danish table lamp.
“The house is sited to maximize views of the nature reserve and kept low on the landscape to minimize visual impact,” says Beatty.
Above: “The house is sited to maximize views of the nature reserve and kept low on the landscape to minimize visual impact,” says Beatty.

For a look at other off-the-grid spaces, see our posts:

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