The Elgin Valley is the apple-growing centre of South Africa. Filled with orchards as well as cool-climate vineyards, the valley is surrounded by mountains and nature reserves, including the protected Kogelberg Biosphere. It’s also less than an hour’s drive from Cape Town, which makes it the ideal weekend escape from the city. That’s why hotelier and entrepreneur Jody Aufrichtig chose it for his delightfully eccentric farm lodge, the Old Mac Daddy, where the rooms are luxuriously and creatively converted vintage Airstream trailers.
In fact, it seemed so perfect that there came a point at which Jody and his family – his wife Deirdre and their four children, Mina Mai, Jai, Sophie and Luca – thought they should build a holiday retreat there, but a private spot that they could make their own.
Architect Greg Scott and his team had worked with Jody on various projects over the years (Scott had designed the main barn-like venue at the resort that includes a restaurant, pool and space for events), so the Aufrichtigs began discussing their idea for a weekend bolthole with him.
They’d earmarked a beautiful spot near the farm dam on the property, backing onto an orchard, with views over the water and the valley beyond. ‘I wanted to be near water, because the birdlife is incredible,’ says Jody. ‘Early in the morning, I watch the ducks landing on the dam. It’s just lovely.’ He and the kids enjoy swimming and canoeing across the dam, too, so the idea of having a house ‘right on top of the water’ appealed enormously to the family. The site they chose faces west, so in the evenings there are beautiful sunsets over the water as the sun dips behind the distant mountains.
Scott had already explored a contemporary barn aesthetic at the main lodge building, and was keen to reinterpret and extend the idea for a holiday house. ‘It’s a very pure architectural form, and if you can stay true to it, put some beautiful punctures and apertures in it, and open up the ends, it’s an amazing way of building, says Scott. ‘And it obviously relates very well to its context,’ he adds. A barn shape, inevitably, looks right at home in an orchard.
Barns also make for simple, practical construction – especially in rural areas such as Elgin, where you’d want to disturb the landscape as little as possible. ‘The steel portal frame is made off site and can be erected quickly,’ says Scott. So essentially, that’s what his team did: popped up a steel frame, enclosed it, and clad it in corrugated roof sheeting, layering in modern systems such as solar power to keep the creature comforts sustainable and its ecological footprint small.
The interior is almost entirely ‘skinned’, as Scott puts it, in spruce. Its pale timber walls and pitched ceilings follow the building’s exterior silhouette with simplified, clean lines so you can ‘read’ the barn shape from inside, too. The furnishings, lights and even the pots and pans were to be black. ‘We thought we’d have some fun in the bathrooms: they are predominantly stone with a series of white finishes,’ he says. The stone was harvested from the site, and the rough, raw-textured finish stands in contrast to the refinement of the living and bedroom areas.
Apart from playfully blurring the distinction between inside and out, the mirror also underlines the point that the house is ultimately outward-looking. In fact, as Jody says, it’s deliberately small not just to simplify and declutter, but also because the family’s weekend and holiday breaks in Elgin are about being outdoors. Jody’s favourite spot is the outside entertainment area. ‘We have a gas and a wood braai. I braai every night, I think. It’s not about the food for me; it’s about standing around the fire.’