Hermitage Valley Conservatory

WORDS Mila Crewe-Brown PHOTOS Karl Rogers/Vignette

As part of the Fazenda Farm, this conservatory in the Overberg nestles gently in a famously beautiful berry-producing valley.

If you’re looking for tucked-away escapes in spellbinding natural surrounds, Fazenda’s Instagram account should definitely be on your list to scope out. The images in question belong to Fazenda Luxury Retreat & Farm near Swellendam, owned by the Van der Merwe family, whose vision has produced their latest “baby” – a conservatory shaded by monolithic boulders, wattles and blue gum trees. Begun and completed within just three short months during lockdown, the greenhouse is the fourth establishment on the working farm of Fazenda, offering guests a luxury mountainside getaway not far from Cape Town. It follows three existing mountain cabins that hug the dam’s fringes – this one, though, bears little resemblance to its siblings.

The greenhouse is owners Marilouise and Jacques’s distinctive offering to hospitality – a structure whose inherent cohesion with nature belies its striking, contemporary construction. It’s one that marries their passion for building spaces that are light on the earth with adept skills in handiwork and construction, and a studied eye for design. Their intention was for the structure to capitalise on its location in the wilderness, taking little away from the geography and environment. With one end clad in mirror, the building reflects an image of the surroundings, making it all but undetectable from this angle.

The Greenhouse at Fazenda
Stones used to clad the outdoor fireplace at Fazenda’s greenhouse were collected from the nearby riverbank.

The swathes of glass showcase views of a natural forest and lichen-cloaked rocks, and the silhouette of the Langeberg mountains and kloof. And this connection to nature is augmented by way of French doors that lead off two sides of the rectangular box, folding back flat. It’s as simple in its layout as it is in its motive to escape the demands of modern living, with an undivided interior that spans from the bed and living space at one end to the kitchenette at the other. Protruding from this single room is a light-filled bathroom offering lofty views into the canopy overhead.

“As a designer, it was important to me that the pieces we sourced, both new and old, have a clear relation to the interior, and portray the feel of the final product,” says Marilouise, expressing the sentiment that steers her interior design studio, Experiences and Design. “The interior needs to tell the story without much explanation. To me, that’s good design.” Thus, a gathered anthology of vintage enamel pendant lights, steel trolleys, butler sinks and an arsenal of living plants tells the story of the greenhouse. Most of those furniture pieces and objets are original, antique or vintage, spotted at roadside peddlers, second-hand stores and reclamation sites, and hauled away with glee.

For the most part, the greenhouse sits on stilts, resting gently on the ground rather than anchoring into it. The steel that encompasses it is reclaimed, as are many of the pressed ceiling panels that have been shrewdly repurposed as decorative cladding. To better cope with the elements and to draw less thermally, the space has been fitted with Sisalation reflective foil insulation, as well as fibre insulation panels. That Fazenda is situated in Swellendam’s historic Hermitage Valley is befitting of its atmosphere and values. This secluded retreat urges you to slow down and take stock, and to be present and connect with your surroundings, albeit with the comforts of modern luxury living. In summer, when the doors are swung open, a cool forest breeze draws through the interior, and the dd bord swoops in, feeling right at home – both inside and out.

Looking for more architectural inspiration? Take a look at the Witklipfontein Eco Lodge.