LIVING > Swartland Weekend Escape

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swartland weekend escape

A Joburg architect has created her dream retreat in the quaint village of Koringberg…

Text Lianne Burton Production Genneth Lyn Photographs Martin Hahn

Every few weeks, conservation architect Minky Lidchi leaves the city behind her and heads for the hills – in her case, the rolling cornfields to which Koringberg owes its name. Though the trip involves a two-hour flight from Jo’burg to Cape Town, and a further one hour journey by car, these rural weekends have become an eagerly anticipated monthly ritual. ‘The schlep is worth it! I come here with everything I need and then I don’t leave for three days,’ she says. ‘It forces me to chill.’

Relatively undiscovered, Koringberg offers authentic, affordable country living 110 kilometres from Cape Town. ‘It’s so quiet here,’ enthuses Minky. ‘You might hear a train going past and church bells on a Sunday. I feel like I’m in Italy.’ She initially bought a piece of land in Koringberg in November 2006, sight unseen except for a photograph sent to her by friend and fellow architect Luis Ferreira da Silva.

A month later, when she came to view her plot a neighbour ambled over – as people do in Koringberg – and asked Minky if she knew of anyone who would like to buy his house. On discovering that the two properties had originally been one, she put in an offer and by January was the proud owner of a reunited couple: a run-down house and a rambling garden.

While most architects prefer to design from scratch, Minky is happiest transforming existing buildings. ‘I prefer to work with what’s already there than to be given a blank canvas,’ she says. This passion guided her through the miraculous renovation, conducted long-distance for a year and a half, of what is today called The White House. The challenge for Minky was to find a balance between keeping the integrity of the original house and reworking it for modern living. ‘If you don’t give old buildings new life, nobody wants to live in them,’ she says.

The shell of the building was perfect. ‘It had really great windows with original internal shutters that we just scraped down and lime-washed,’ she recalls. ‘And the proportions were amazing, with high ceilings to keep it cool in summer. But the room arrangement wasn’t conducive to my lifestyle.’ As in many period houses, an array of small rooms led off from a central passageway. ‘I wanted a country house that was open and sociable … a space for relaxed living.’ Interior walls were knocked out to create a vast open-plan kitchen, dining and living room space. To add to the sense of flow, Minky removed the timber floors in the dining area and opted to install quartz-based flooring throughout the living space, extending it seamlessly outdoors. The removed wood was used to patch the damaged timber floors in the main bedroom. ‘Almost everything from the original house has been reused somewhere,’ Minky says proudly.

When builders started removing the plaster on the interior and exterior walls they were surprised to find not brick, but rare leiklip walls. They immediately SMSed a picture to Minky in Jo’burg and she instructed them to accentuate the beautiful texture by lightly plastering and then painting them a dazzling meringue white. Finally, she added external shutters and a generous front veranda with elegant rosewood columns. ‘The house has a very solid feeling. I wanted the veranda to be in contrast, so light that it would almost disappear.’

This veranda is now Koringberg’s unofficial sundowner spot. ‘If my door’s open people are welcome to come for a meal … or a sleepover,’ says Minky. Fellow Jo’burger and owner of Hadeda, Des Armstrong quips: ‘You know you’ll always have a bed at Minky’s … you just don’t know who you might have to share it with!’ And, if guests do feel the need to move off Minky’s stoep, ‘Paternoster is just 70 kilometres away, so you can go eat crayfish, have a swim and come home.’ Bliss.

The White House is available for selective rental; email aminky@mweb.co.za.

MINKY’S HOME TRUTHS

Five words that describe me are independent, gregarious, motivated, impetuous and demanding.
I collect
handmade objects formed out of natural materials – stone, timber, marble, leather or clay.
I’d define my style as
a sense of harmony. 
My signature dish
is snoek pâté and a fresh home-grown salad.
I recycle by choosing items that have a long life span – I would rather buy a sculpture than a machine.
My secret talent
is making the most of each day – once it’s gone you never get it back.
I relax
when I’m asleep.
My favourite shop
is Amatuli Fine Arts.
My interiors motto
is to be true to yourself. Decide what you really like and then go for it.
The best things about country life
are the people, and the fact that time seems to last longer.
The soundtrack to my perfect weekend 
is Mozart.
I’d love to
have Barack Obama around for dinner.
An artist that I have my eye on
is Nandipha Mntambo.
The best place for last-minute gifts
is Exclusive Books.
If I didn’t live in Jo’burg
I’d live in Buenos Aires.
My word of
 the moment is relevance.
The place I find most inspiring
is Rajasthan in India. 
All my money goes on
gardening, my house and travel.

This home was originally featured in the August 2009 issue of House and Leisure.