Jasper Eales and Alex Bergh work from home and grow their own
Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Photographs: Nick Gordon
“These days nobody buys a house here and then lives in it as-is,” says Alex Bergh, who since the beginning of the year has been living in a house that her boyfriend Jasper’s gran designed and built. Back then Llandudno’s tranquility was only interrupted by the sounds of the waves breaking. Today it sounds like a construction site with the din of McMansions being erected.
Unlike the glass and steel monoliths stealing more sky, the house that Jasper’s gran built has remained relatively unchanged. A legendary figure in the area, she was one of very few female architect to graduate from UCT in the early 1940s and the first woman to cut her one-piece swimsuit into a bikini.
“She took a very practical approach to her design,” says Jasper, pointing out the row of metal drums that catch rainwater from the gutters and the Consol jar rack in the kitchen. “Which I suppose is the same way that I approach things. Let the function determine the form.”
Jasper’s father’s touch can be seen here, too. The former advertising man turned deck builder erected the balau and sugar gum platform leading out from the lounge’s concertina doors and hanging over the lush courtyard. The creative spirit is strong in the Eales family and Jasper’s mom, who started Naartjie Clothing, has made some of the lampshades in the house. A third-generation maker, Jasper’s put in a surf rack, designed and built a desk, and outside he’s prototyping a new surf rack.
“I generally like to live with everything here first before I put it out on the market. In the flatlet downstairs I designed the mirror and some simple, cost-effective shelving systems. I work in metal and timber most of the time, and now I’m teaching myself to sew. Your best designers are people who understand the materials, production and manufacturing process.”
Having started his business out of his parent’s garage, Jasper Eales Originals has won Zigzag’s Most Innovative Product Award and Most Beautiful Object in South Africa at Design Indaba. 90% of his production is outsourced to local manufacturers, and so his workshop at the Woodstock Exchange was mainly used for prototypes, assemblies and testing stuff. But by the time you read this, he will have moved out of that space and into a new space across the road.
Alex splits her time between a farm in Clanwilliam and this little galley kitchen where she’s busy doing something with aubergine that makes the entire kitchen smell as delicious as French toast.
All those microwave meals, salads and mixed vegetables you’ve bought from that retailer that also does food, you know, your go-to convenient meal experts, well, if it’s a vegetarian option then chances are that it was concocted right here, too.
“This is my office and everything starts here. I make salads, mixed veg bags, whatever. Write everything down, a little bit more of this, a little bit less of that, and then I take it to the factory. We do the potato bake. Two filled butternuts, the one with ratatouille and the one with creamed spinach, all the potato, butternut, pumpkin… and then all those mixed veg bags. We’re busy working on two new microwave meals.”
Nothing has come from the vegetable patch in the back yard that takes up a third of the property, as Jasper hasn’t been able to tend to it. Ten weeks ago he got a new liver. Not only was he out of the garden, he’s been out of the water as well, and so while recovering he’s throw himself into a new business venture using the type of intensity with which he’d usually attack a wave.
“Sealand Gear is about making products that are functional and can stand the test of time. We utilise materials that have been previously manufactured for another application. A yacht sail, an advertising billboard, or a stretch tent – and when that comes to the end of its lifespan, instead of ending up in a landfill we create a new value for that material through upcycling. The idea is to create products that are in some way saving the environment. One of our challenges will be educating people as to why they should invest in a timeless bag that has a lifetime guarantee as opposed to buying something that is high-fashion, trending, but only lasts a season.”
As a surfer, Jasper has the luxury of splitting his time between the new space in Woodstock and working on his designs from home. Walking down to the beach with Alex and his dog Sago to check the conditions goes without saying, as does having a paddle to clear his mind.
“Only an ocean-minded person understands the value of being able to live like this. That freedom of the way you run a business. I’m busy reading the founder of Patagonia’s book, Let My People Go Surfing, and it’s inspirational seeing how the thinking of a founder of a business that successful is very similar to that of mine. Surfing gives you a balance you need in life. Clears your head like nothing else. I’m grateful and so fortunate. It’s ideal.”
Gratitude is something that Jasper talks about a lot. A hereditary condition, PSC, caused inflammation and scarring of his liver until it reached the point of cirrhosis and could no longer filter the toxins in his body. The result was jaundiced skin, no whites in his eyes, brown urine, crippling fatigue and impending death. Then a donor came through.
“It’s one of the more gnarly operations a person can have. Ten or eleven hours. Multiple surgeons and anesthetists. Cut me from my sternum, to my belly button, to my right hip, lifted up my rib cage, my right lung collapsed partially and they had to take water off my lung, they cut through my stomach muscles, my inflamed liver put a lot of pressure on my spleen, which gave me a potbelly… That said, it’s been an absolutely blessed process. Things can turn very quickly. Your biggest risks are in the early stages, but I haven’t had any problems. I’m only getting healthier and stronger, with more energy.”
The responsibilities that come with Jasper’s new organ include having to take a cocktail of immune suppressant pills every 12 hours. He’s also started meditating, doing breathing exercises and speaking to his new liver.
“I have a part of someone else inside of me and as strange as it might sound, I speak to that person in my own time sometimes, just to show thanks for giving me a second chance at life.”
Jasper is focused on eating as healthily as possible, and fortunately for him Alex is as devoted. Having grown up on a farm, she thinks of food as something that grows in your yard or what you pet in a field, and after studying things like microbiology and biotech she did her Master's in food science. The perfect partner then for a recovering Jasper.
“It takes a lot of energy to digest food, and so we had to figure out what would be easiest to digest and would give Jasper energy immediately. As soon as we started eating raw stuff, things that had been soaked, green juices, we had so much more energy. It’s a lifestyle change and you just have to think ahead. We’ve only been doing it for a year now, but you get into it. We now go to Newlands and get water from the spring there that we use for soaking everything, for the sprouts, for cooking, for drinking. We were given a dehydrator. There’s a network of people that we get all our food from. James Kuiper from Sexy Food especially. He’s passed on a huge amount of assistance and knowledge.”
Alex brings us our lunch, a typical meal in their household comprising brinjal with sesame seeds, quinoa and kale salad, avo, pureed carrots, nuts and onion that’s then squashed together to make a raw loaf and sprouts.
“I know what goes into commercial food, which is a good thing and at the same time, not so cool. Everything has sugar. It enhances the flavour and is a preservative as well. Because of the scale of production all food has chemicals, pesticides and herbicides. If it’s not organically farmed there are toxins in the plants. Right now there’s no proper study on toxin build-up in your body so I’m very aware of it.”
Their grocery cupboard is the Consol jar rack that’s filled with things like buckwheat, sunflower seeds, goji berries, quinoa, dates, almonds, chickpeas, lentils and a variety of teas ranging from a Moroccan Mint to the honey bush that Alex did her master’s thesis on. And sprouts. Alex will take seeds and soak them overnight then put them into the jars. These then grow until they’re the beginning of a plant, with all the nutrients of a bigger plant. Jasper’s designed the sprout (which are available through James at Sexy Food) racks for the Consol jars that stand for three or four days and get rinsed every day.
The most amazing part of this small space is how both Alex and Jasper work from here in harmony, Jasper doing his research and design, and Alex working from the kitchen. A clever use of space, plenty of natural light, good flow and the way, say, a bathroom door will slide closed to reveal a recess that keeps towels and things make the most of what’s essentially a small footprint.
Alex likens living in Llandudno to the life she had growing up in her small farming community. How you greet everyone you pass in the street, and know which dogs are whose. She says she'd struggle to live in the city, that being there makes her feel claustrophobic. That it feels weird. For Jasper it’s about being able to ride the waves he grew up surfing.
“When the waves are good you want to be able to drop whatever you’re doing and go surf. You can’t do that when you’re working a corporate 9-5. I’m lucky to have a group of friends where a lot of the mates have set themselves up in the type of business where we have the same flexibility and we can do what we want.”
Jasper plans on being back in the surf by November. Right now he’s happy to be consumed by his new venture, getting better acquainted with his new liver, and living the dream with his two girls, Alex and Sago, eating healthy, living in harmony with his surroundings and being thankful for each new day.