As a busy single mother and owner of Woodstock homeware store Love Milo, Nicki Ellis needed a getaway from Cape Town city life – a place where birdsong replaced tweeting, transport was by bicycle, and her children Milo, six, and Phoenix, five, could contentedly amuse themselves while she read in the sun. Fortunately her father had a plan.
‘Having grandchildren was the catalyst for him,’ Nicki explains.
‘Children grow up so quickly and my dad wanted to create a place where we could all be together for weekends and holidays so he could take them fishing and for walks.’
Graham Ellis, a doctor based in Somerset West, had spent weekends in Greyton over the years and had fallen for the quiet village set in a hollow in the Riviersonderend Mountains. With its rivers and leiwater channels running along oak-shaded streets and its nature reserve with fynbos walks and waterfalls, this was a place where the children could explore outdoors and safely play in the streets. At a 90-minute drive from Cape Town and 45 minutes from Somerset West it was also accessible so, four years ago, Graham found the perfect plot on the gravel road along the river at the bottom of the village.
‘Then we all sat down and discussed the design of the house,’ recalls Nicki. Her sister Andrea, an architect working with Luke Scott in Cape Town at the time, designed the house in a U shape around a central swimming area, with all rooms facing the pool.
‘There’s one side for the kids to play in, one side for the adults to drink in,’ says Nicki, laughing: one wing houses the main living area and kitchen, the other a playroom and TV.
Based on a barn concept with trusses and high ceilings, the home is distinctly contemporary for Greyton yet meets the strict building regulations prescribing a country style.
Graham employed local artisans and builders for the home’s construction and although this may have prolonged the process he considered it an important gesture for a family that would be joining Greyton’s small community.
The decor was Nicki’s contribution: from Love Milo she selected cushions, fabrics, cutlery and china in a neutral palette – ‘nothing too fancy’. The family had agreed on a light-filled holiday home that was simple, uncluttered and easy to maintain. ‘The house is made for the kids to do what they want,’ explains Nicki.
‘There are often frogs in the house; Milo brings in fish; and they can ride their bicycles on the cement screed floors.’
In January 2013, after 18 months of building and decorating, the house was ready for occupation. Cue the start of a new parallel life for the family members who, like most Greyton residents, soon began walking to the shops and riding their bicycles to the Saturday-morning market. Milo whiles away hours finding insects and caterpillars, catching mosquito fish in the pond at the bottom of the garden, spotting wildlife in the nature reserve and going fly-fishing in the river with his grandfather. Phoenix can be found jumping on the trampoline, baking cookies or drawing in front of the fireplace in winter. Nicki takes the opportunity to read on the cushioned ledge beside the north-facing living room window, a prime sun spot even in winter. The glass throughout the house affords views all the way to the back garden. As Nicki notes, ‘No matter where you are, you can always see where the kids are.’
Their house in the village has become the natural location for family celebrations.
When Graham turned 60 last year a throng of his friends stayed in the village and joined the family for a festive dinner at Searle’s Trading Post. For the children, Halloween is the highlight.
‘It’s very open and neighbourly here; a very nice, close-knit community. Everyone made such an effort,’ says Nicki, recalling the cauldron at the bottom of a neighbour’s garden, the witches’ hats decorating houses, and how her children went trick or treating along the village lanes, with Milo dressed as Darth Vader and Phoenix as a skeleton.
Truly, it’s a place where memories are made.
Originally published in HL December 2015