Blue Lagoon

Text Alma Viviers  Production Sven Alberding  Photographs Warren Heath

Sun, sea and salubrity are in abundance at Rob and Gina McClelland’s Grotto Bay house, an airy haven on the rugged West Coast of South Africa.

Observing the sun-kissed, easy-going couple Rob and Gina McClelland at their holiday home in Grotto Bay Estate, you would be forgiven for thinking this couple leads a life of leisure. 

But Rob and Gina, both former models, traded life in front of the lens for one behind the camera as owners of 2Productions, a photo stills production house that has produced more than 500 shoots, since its inception in 2000. 

Together they manage to effortlessly balance the demands of the production world with spending quality time with their two young daughters Meeca (11) and Hannah (7) as well as their two furry children, dogs Max and Texan.   

Because the industry is so seasonal, driven by the search for sunshine and blue skies, the couple is busiest in summer, with winter affording them 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 offshore winds here make for great surfing conditions.” 

So when Rob was looking to invest in a seaside property that could double as a breakaway house closer to Cape Town as well as a location for shoots, he searched this neck of woods for uninterrupted sea views, great light, a scenic landscape and a favourable climate. 

He found all of this and more at the 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 allowed something that few other locations along the West Coast does; 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 progressively step back to let in 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 vision 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. 

“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 height to 6 metres, the main living spaces benefit from a lofty double volume giving it an airy feel, while additional guest bedrooms are tucked upstairs in the roof space. The all-white painted floors and wall contribute a sense of seamless openness with stack doors opening up on wooden decks that fringe the house. 

Instead of defaulting to the traditional blue and white colour palette that is pervasive in holiday homes on the West Coast, they 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, honed and handcrafted to more finely finished. Woven grass and rattan furnishings contribute to animate the blank canvas.  

The McClellands also acquired the plot behind the house, which allowed them to add a guest cottage a short distance from the house. 

This gave 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 and provides a perfect spot to soak up the sunshine, 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 landscape of fynbos, and if you sit on the other side you can bake in the morning sun like a lizard with a view of the sea,” he enthuses. 

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