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3 Sustainable Materials Used to Build This Remarkable Karoo Home

You have to get creative when building a home in the middle of nowhere.

Greg Cox

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Building a house from scratch is a challenge. Add a remote location to the mix and you're left with a mammoth task that requires creativity and lots of resourcefulness. This is something that Cornel and Neill Strydom learnt first-hand when they built a getaway house on their Colesberg farm in the Karoo.

Designing the home was a treat for Cornel, who drew inspiration from Pinterest, Instagram and holiday getaways she visited. But when it came to building the house, Cornel and her builder Tertius du Toit had a lot of obstacles to overcome, especially since Cornel wanted the house to be true to the Karoo environment. The result is a sophisticated house built with surprising and sustainable materials.

1. Stones From The Farm

From the get-go, Cornel knew that she was going to build a stone house. To make it more site-specific, she decided to use stones from the farm. This may seem like an easy material to get, as it is part of the immediate surroundings, but it is quite the opposite. 'Building the house with stone from the farm sounds very easy, but it’s not. Because the stone is not lying in a pile at the spot where you’re building the house,' she says.

Not only do you have to find the correct type of stones, you also have to find the correct size for different parts of the house. To source the stones, Cornel employed a group of displaced sheep shearers known in Colesberg as the 'karretjie mense' (kart people). 'We have a tractor and trailer on the farm, which the karretjie mense used to gather the stones for us. I can’t tell you how many trips they made, finding stones to build the house with. It was weeks and weeks of collecting them. For the floors, they had to go even further to find flat stones.' recalls Cornel.

The walls and floors of the house are made from stone, and the leftover material was used to line the driveway in front of the house so that every bit of it was used.

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2. Shutters Made From Pallets

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Cement is a fundamental part of building that most of us don't think about at all. But when you are in the middle of nowhere, and there is no cement on hand, you think about it a lot. Cornel and Neill had to have the cement delivered to their building site because they could not source it in town. 'Being so far from civilisation, we had the cement delivered by truck. We had two trucks bringing us 370 bags of cement and could have actually have gone for a third truck.'

When the trucks left and the cement was used, Cornel was stuck with a whole bunch of pallets. Instead of getting rid of them, she decided to repurpose them.'The trucks delivered the cement on pallets, and when we used up the cement we had all these pallets leftover. So we used them for the shutters on the windows to replace curtains – I’m convinced that if you are in the Karoo, you have to experience the night sky and early morning sunrise. That’s why we don’t have curtains,' says Cornel.

Determined not to waste anything, leftover wood from the pallets was used in the pantry as a backdrop over the cupboards and solar fridge. They form the herringbone design that you see throughout the house.

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3. Reed Furnishings

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Stones were not the only material from the farm that was incorporated into the house. There is an ephemeral stream on the farm that Cornel is in the process of restoring. The reeds from the stream were used on the stoep's ceiling and for the vanities in the bathroom. The reed vanities were an unplanned solution to prevent having more materials brought in from other parts of the country. 

'I had to find something to make the vanities out of,  and being so far out, I didn't want to use wood, because it's so heavy. So we designed a simple structure with round feet that would support the reed tabletop.' says Cornel.

Throughout the building, Cornel ensured that there was no wastage, and the house is all the more innovative because of this.