Mountain House is a contemporary South African hillside retreat

Architect Chris van Niekerk has designed a private mountain house that nestles into its site, providing space, views, and a sense of time and evolution

Mountain House, South Africa, by Chris van Niekerk
(Image credit: Chris van Niekerk)

This new mountain house is located on the slopes of the Steenberg range of mountains in South Africa. Taking its cues from the geology of the landscape, with stratified rock formations, the concrete dwelling is set over two levels that step down the slopes. 

Mountain House set into its landscape, South Africa

(Image credit: Chris van Niekerk)

The Mountain House brief

Architect Chris van Niekerk designed the retreat on behalf of clients who divide their time between Europe and South Africa, and the brief was to address the landscape and contours of the site, rather than impose a prescribed amount of accommodation.

Concrete facade and corner window of Mountain House, by architect Chris van Niekerk

(Image credit: Chris van Niekerk)

A driveway leads to the secluded house, set within a triangle-shaped, 4,000 sq m plot. The house itself is arranged in a U shape, divided between two wings, united by a covered terrace in the middle. There are scattered remnants of an earlier dwelling and its garden walls, but the project is fundamentally an entirely new construction.

Exterior of Mountain House, by architect Chris van Niekerk

(Image credit: Chris van Niekerk)

The smaller wing houses a guest suite and a study on the upper level, with walls that seem to bleed into the landscape and a terrace adjoining the enclosed swimming pool, with its Barragán-esque concrete walls. The main body of the house is larger, with the principal bedroom located at one end and a large open-plan kitchen and living room at the other. The entrance is located on the level below, with a staircase taking you directly into the main living space.

Living space with floor to ceiling windows in Mountain House in South Africa

(Image credit: Chris van Niekerk)

A large concrete canopy sits atop the two wings, uniting the structure and shading the central outdoor room; in one direction you can see Table Mountain, in the other, the sea at False Bay. The intersection of this canopy with the roof and skylights modulates the interior lighting, creating unexpected views and shadows as the sun moves around the site.

Shaded patio at concrete mountain house in South Africa

(Image credit: Chris van Niekerk)

The fenestration is an eclectic mix of expansive frameless floor-to-ceiling glass, slender slot, recessed windows and glazed corners. Light plays across the interior surfaces, which combine concrete with lime-bagged stone and brickwork, creating softly undulating walls that exude a natural warmth and texture. ‘The entire structure reads as a homogenous body,’ says van Niekerk, ‘the sun and seasons will render their effects strongly and will continue to do so as the structure ages.’ 

minimalist bathroom with open view from shower

(Image credit: Chris van Niekerk)

The house is surrounded by a carefully consider planting plan, which restored some of the vegetation displaced by the foundations as well as added new indigenous plants. Water has been scarce in recent years, and ensuring the landscape is self-sustaining without additional watering was an important part of the brief.

View to South African outdoors from minimalist interior

(Image credit: Chris van Niekerk)

Ultimately, growth and weathering will see the structure become more and more embedded into its site. Throughout this process, the inside-outside spaces will give the owners a permanent connection with the landscape and views.

Jonathan Bell has written for Wallpaper* magazine since 1999, covering everything from architecture and transport design to books, tech and graphic design. He is now the magazine’s Transport and Technology Editor. Jonathan has written and edited 15 books, including Concept Car Design, 21st Century House, and The New Modern House. He is also the host of Wallpaper’s first podcast.