This Tiny Cabin Overlooking the Cape Town Surf Was Assembled in Under 3 Weeks
Bat roosts and owl boxes welcome guests of all kinds.
Published May 5, 2023 1:30 AM
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Thirty steps from architect Alexander McGee’s South Africa home, at the bottom of a rocky hillside surrounded by cypress trees and strongly scented buchus, is a small wood cabin tucked into the scrub. The house overlooks Muizenberg, one of Cape Town’s best-known surfing spots—a view that can be enjoyed from the roughly 390-square-foot interior, thanks to a generous window seat. The roof is topped with solar panels that provide enough power for the cabin and the main house. But you won’t spot any gutters: McGee wanted to be able to watch the rain run off the roof from any angle. “We’re spoiled in South Africa with some of the most naturally beautiful sites found anywhere in the world,” says McGee. “As an architect, I view it as my responsibility to demonstrate an alternate solution to settling in these environments.”
Initially, the house was an experiment: How well and how fast could he craft a house in a remote location? Key to this was building the whole place off-site in a warehouse where McGee and his team could tinker around with the details and make modifications before taking it apart and reassembling it on his property. The materials were everything.
Instead of using traditional brick and mortar, McGee turned to lightweight cross-laminated timber (CLT), which offers great sound and thermal insulation, generates almost no waste during the construction process, and requires a small team for install. “Some view it as the building industry’s only savior in achieving a near carbon-neutral footprint,” shares McGee. Once he and his crew had returned to his land to actually put the home together, it took less than three weeks.
Going with a 45-degree pitched roof with large eaves not only made the tiny cabin a closer match to McGee’s main house, it offered space for a standing mezzanine level, accessed by a retractable ladder. “Even though the bed does not have a base, the elevated nature of it makes you feel incredibly safe. It is almost nestlike,” says McGee. While the architect imagined that the space would function as a show home for his business, Anima Homes, where he creates similar tiny homes that have the flexibility to be tailored to their environment, McGee and his family have barely been able to use it. Ever since they listed the place on Airbnb, it’s been steadily booked.
Luckily for visitors, there is plenty of storage. Right when they walk in, they’re greeted by a Wawa wood surfboard, handcrafted in Muizenberg, followed by tons of hanging space for clothes. Behind the wardrobe lives all of the solar-power inverters and batteries that allow the structure to run off-grid. McGee prioritized salvaged materials wherever possible: The cedar shelving in the bathroom came straight from a scrap yard, while the reclaimed travertine sink in the kitchen was a steal from a stonemason friend. As for the trim around the windows, those pieces came directly from McGee’s house (they’re remnants from an old piece of furniture).
When McGee and his family aren’t hosting Airbnb guests, they’re patiently awaiting the arrival of another visitor: eagle-owls. “When I first moved here, there was a pair that nested in the palm trees adjacent to our property,” he says. In an effort to create a welcoming habitat, he added built-in owl boxes to the exterior (in addition to bat roosts). “Sadly, the owls haven’t come back yet,” he admits, ‘but the door is always open for them.”