Meet John and Fiona Whitfield, a retired couple who chose to sell their family home to build a treetop hideaway nestled among the indigenous flora and fauna of Port Elizabeth. 

The Insider SA visited the friendly city of PE to meet John and Fiona Whitfield, a brave couple who took a leap of faith to downsize and retire in the restful comforts of nature. In 2015, the Whitfield’s chose to subdivide their property, sell their 1940s family home, and build a one-bedroom treetop hideaway next door.

Owners of House Whitfield, John and Fiona Whitfield.

The Baakens River Valley is rich in indigenous plant and birdlife. The Whitfield House’s advantageous location also provides a steep elevation, creating a world-class view with very little between them and the beautiful surrounding nature reserve.

The natural landscape was the inspiration behind the eco-friendly and sustainable home. Designed by Dal Venables and Neal Fisher, co-owners of DMV Architecture and old friends of the Whitfields, the two architects found House Whitfield one of the most rewarding challenges to work on.

“Architecture is changing”. Dal and Neal declare. “It’s all about the small space; the multi-use space”. While building their dream-home, John and Fiona worked closely with Dal and Neal, who similarly shared a great passion for the house. Dal and Neal not only made the Whitfield’s dreams come true, but they began to feel like family.

One of the Whitfield’s requests in the home’s construction was respecting the natural life surrounding them. As a result, Dal and Neal were able to create a green, light carbon-footprinted home that extended upwards in its structure as to not interrupt or disturb the peace of the location.

“The site played a massive role in how we produced the architecture and how we tied that architecture back into the site”, explains Dal and Neal. “We were required to only have a certain footprint within this site which allowed us to perch the building between two trees. We wanted to touch the earth lightly”.

The home is warm, stylish, and perfectly fit for the two empty-nesters. John shares, “We’re so lucky to live on the edge of the Baakens River Valley. It’s the end of the fynbos biome which stretches all the way from Cape Town”.

With their priority resting in sustainability, John explains, “We’ve tried to concentrate on only having indigenous plants and most of the trees are self-seeded here. We also only rely on rainwater as it’s a very drought-stricken area in Port Elizabeth”.

The retired couple took up their life of tranquillity amongst the trees when they moved in during 2016. “We weren’t sure how it would turn out, but we’re more than thrilled with the beautiful space” shares Fiona. In every corner of the home, you’ll find boutique South African décor: Mungo blanket throws, Ardmore wallpaper, Roorkhee chairs, and many more treasures alongside these.

Due to it’s snug fit, this modern treehouse had to rely on multi-use spaces and functionality. For example, the kitchen counter is also the dining room table and can act as a workspace. However, John’s favourite nook of his new home is the bedroom as it overlooks the Baakens Valley’s indigenous trees. “When we wake up from bed, we can watch the sun rise in Winter”, he explains.

John and Fiona, oftten spend time camping out in their outdoor tent on their property. The tent features a family quilts draped over each bed within the tent.

Tucked away in the garden is a tent that has become a popular destination for travellers to rent out. It’s also where their sons and extended family stays when visiting. “It’s our best kept secret”, Fiona shares, “Our tented accommodation in the garden overlooks the beautiful indigenous plants. We installed this tent as extra accommodation about three years ago and we’ve used it on a regular basis. We absolutely love it out here”.

It’s amazing what can be created when dreams are given vision. All that’s left, is an open mind.