The Great Beyond: a Beautifully Inspiring Karoo Home
Building a house on a farm just outside Colesberg might seem out of the ordinary, but take one look at this home set in the breathtaking Karoo landscape, and it all starts to make sense.
Colesberg, in the Northern Cape, was not Cornel and Neill Strydom’s first choice of location for a retreat. The couple wanted to build elsewhere in the Cape, but when Cornel’s father heard about their plans, he framed a simple question that changed everything. ‘He asked, “Why do you want a small plot in the Western Cape when you can have a farm in the Karoo?”,’ remembers Cornel. ‘That sounded very romantic. I would have never considered farming, but the more we thought about it, the more we liked the idea – because we love a challenge.’
And so, as the new owners of the farm, Neill and Cornel decided to build a house of their own on the property. She asked her friend, Pretoria-based architect Henk Boogertman, for some advice on how to find the ideal site for the house – one that would create a sense of true escapism. ‘Henk said if he goes to a Karoo farm, he wants to see the sun set,’ Cornel says, ‘and that he doesn’t want to feel like he is on the doorstep of the farmer. [So] we found this little corner of the property with a beautiful spring on a neglected piece of land. It really has incredible views to the northern side and is only 400m from the provincial dirt road, making it accessible.’
There was one more thing that made this the consummate getaway for Cornel and Neill, who live in Pretoria East: contrast. As beautiful as it is, the Karoo is not without its challenges, and this contradiction intrigued Cornel, who drew on the idea to create a luxurious and comfortable home in this environment. ‘I think it’s the perfect escape, because you have everything you need in a place where there is nothing,’ she says.
A fan of minimalism and contrast, Cornel has designed a house that consistently surprises and delights. She took inspiration from places she and Neill have visited, and that caught her eye on Pinterest and Instagram. ‘There were many influences when I started thinking about the type of house we aimed to build,’ she says. ‘I wanted it to be true to its environment.’
Builder Tertius du Toit’s expertise was vital – he had to be creative when it came to the practicalities of construction in such a remote location. They tried to use as much material from the property as they could, such as stone, sand and even reeds from its ephemeral stream. ‘Building a home from stone from the farm sounds easy, but it’s not, because the stone is not lying in a pile on the spot where you’re building,’ explains Cornel. ‘The cement arrived by truck, having travelled a very long distance from the suppliers, and it was delivered on wooden pallets, which we repurposed as shutters. If you are in the Karoo, you have to experience the night sky and sunrise – that’s why we don’t have curtains.’
Neill – the South African distributor of the Romo Group’s fabrics and wallcoverings – was the champion in making sure Du Toit had everything he needed. ‘Neill’s superior negotiating skills ensured there were always enough stones, building sand, river sand, crushed stone – you name it – to make sure our dream house came to life,’ she says.
The house was orientated for comfort in the Karoo’s extreme weather, and its occupants always have a good view. One of its most striking features is the remarkable distinction between the exterior and the interior. The stone exterior walls reflect the colour palette of the surrounding landscape while a delightfully unexpected, sleek black-and-white interior awaits indoors. This is exactly the effect Cornel wanted to create.
‘I like the concept of being in a darker space and looking out into the light or vice versa. And I loved the idea of little surprises in a house, like not knowing everything when you walk into a space,’ says Cornel. Entering this abode is precisely that: stepping through a glass door in the centre of the stone facade brings you into a dark room where wooden barn doors conceal the rest of the interior. ‘The foyer is a transitional space between travelling here and being here. It’s where you can let your breath out and consider being in the Karoo,’ she explains.
‘There were three design elements that I wanted to stick with,’ she adds. ‘Dark, light and grass. I’m very fond of repetition, so you’ll find the same patterns over and over again throughout.’ The lounge is the centre of the home and its walls are painted in Plascon’s Auberge (a dark, purply brown-black shade). From there, it branches off into four light rooms: two bedrooms, a kitchen and a tranquil reading room. The former are simply furnished with custom-made beds, cabinets and vanity tables. And contrast, texture and pattern abound, even in the smallest details.
Combining Neill and Cornel’s admiration for the environment with a considered design and a careful, sustainable build, the Strydoms’ Karoo home is not just an escape – it is a carefully crafted love letter to the farm that she holds so dear.
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