New kids on the Blok
Renovating this penthouse apartment in Sea Point was the inaugural passion project of its owners, who went on to build a business around the lessons learnt.
For 30-somethings Jacques and Lior van Embden, starting a property development business was a natural progression of their 10-year love and life story. Their double-storey apartment, hovering above Cape Town’s landmark of outdoor living – the Sea Point promenade – is where you really get to understand this narrative and how it filters through to all aspects of their lives.
After living in a house in Woodstock and going through the trying process of finding a place that felt ‘just right’, they came across this apartment, which hadn’t had an upgrade since the ’70s, and fell for it instantly. ‘The transition from semisuburban house to urban apartment has been a very interesting and rewarding experience,’ says Lior, adding that what ultimately attracted them, though, was the sense of community in this part of Sea Point.
As a trained architect and, at the time, a burgeoning property developer with Prime Residential Group, a company he cofounded, Jacques oversaw the renovations needed to convert the simple dwelling into a dream home. ‘We opened up the space a lot, removing columns and walls, and reinterpreted the spatial flow to suit our lifestyle,’ he explains. ‘We’re big entertainers so the kitchen needed to be wide and link up to the braai and balcony. We also did a lot to frame the incredible views around us, while balancing privacy in an urban context.’
Despite its credentials as a rare double-storey penthouse in one of the city’s most enviable locations, the floor space of the two-bedroom home is a modest 150m2, excluding the balconies. However, despite its compactness, the floor-to-ceiling glass windows and sliding doors, as well as the minimalist contemporary interiors, have all allowed for a feeling of uncluttered space and an intimate connection to the idyllic surrounds.
The lower open-plan living area has been designed with a monochrome and timber palette, which frames interesting nodes and structural design solutions based on the concept of spaces within a space. ‘We initially moved in when the apartment was unfinished and not yet “perfect”, as we wanted to figure out all the little spaces once we’d had the chance to live in them,’ says Jacques. ‘The bar, for example, was added more recently, only after we had entertained enough to feel it was in the right spot. We’re now busy reimagining our balconies to turn one of them into a lush urban garden, which we’re really excited about.’
This insightful approach of really getting to grips with how one uses space was also the catalyst for the couple’s new business initiative, Blok – an off-plan property-development brand and a division of the Prime Residential Group, which focuses on apartment living in urban Cape Town. Premised on the values that Jacques and Lior hold dear – namely, a lock-up-and-go lifestyle, connection to a broader community and the idyllic surrounds of the city, and exceptional design solutions for homes that owners can easily adapt for living, working and entertaining – the first of Blok’s developments, Four On C, is right next door to the block in which Jacques and Lior live.
Due for completion in March 2016, all of the 14 apartments at Four On C have integrated home offices and entertainment functionalities, an effortless indoor/outdoor flow as well as high-end fixtures and kitchen appliances from smeg, and bio-ethanol fireplaces. But where the concept – which is, in fact, the first of its kind in the country – really comes into its own is in the realm of technology: a slick downloadable app provides a 3-D interface, allowing potential buyers to explore every feature of an apartment as if they were actually walking through it.
According to Jacques this hi-tech digital element is quite literally the DNA of the Blok brand. As Lior elaborates: ‘We’ve come to understand that not everyone is comfortable reading plans, yet that’s central to how you buy off-plan. Viewing each apartment in 3-D and even “walking” through every room using the app has added unprecedented value to our sales process and to the clients’ understanding of what they are buying.’
Blok launched in September and has since been a resounding success, taking fewer than two months for all the apartments at Four on C to be sold. When you spend time with the Van Embdens, it becomes clear how much the Blok brand is an extension of themselves – the key, no doubt, to the initiative’s success. The branding done by creative agency North, for example, is minimalist and simplistic, yet bold and, according to Lior, ‘entailed saying to the designers: ‘“We know what this brand feels like, we walk in these shoes and understand the joys of urban living, but we just don’t yet know what it looks like,” and they nailed it!’
Blok’s magazine-style catalogue also has an immensely tasteful aesthetic, the lifestyle images calling to mind those of a fashion photographer’s Instagram account, and features interviews with some of Jacques and Lior’s local small-business heroes and familiar faces in the neighbourhood. ‘We love the fact that Sea Point has these great original businesses, as opposed to being filled with chains,’ says Jacques. ‘There’s a uniqueness that comes with these places, a lot of love has been poured into them and it shows.’
All in a Day’s Work (and Play)
Because Jacques and Lior live next door to Blok’s first project, Four On C, they have set up a temporary office at the development. This means that the lines between everyday life, work and play are blurred, and everything they need to get through the day is situated conveniently within walking distance. Says Lior: ‘Every day starts with a coffee from Bootlegger Coffee Company. We don’t know what we ever did before they opened up 50 steps from our front door. In the evenings you’ll find us at the Backyard Grill or La Perla – our busy work schedule means we eat out a lot; the waiters don’t even bring us menus anymore!’ When they do have time out, Jacques and Lior take their dogs, Lilou and Korben, for a walk on the Promenade.
- Blok: blok.co.za
- Smeg: smeg.co.za
- Bootlegger Coffee Company: bootlegger.co.za
- Backyard Grill: Facebook Page
- La Perla: laperla.co.za
Words: Genevieve Putter
Photographs: David Ross