Klein Karoo Farmhouse

WORDS Lori Cohen PRODUCTION Sven Aldering / Bureaux IMAGES Warren Heath / Bureaux

Architect Greg Truen’s heritage farmhouse in the Klein Karoo has been re-imagined as a country retreat in harmony with its past and future.

With a reputation for designing trailblazing buildings across the globe, Greg Truen and his partner Nancy Kashimoto chose to use a different approach when taking on the renovation of a 200-year-old farmhouse. Instead of putting their own contemporary spin on the structure, they breathed new life into the property in the most respectful way. “The idea was always to keep what I found on the farm as pure as possible,” says Greg. Lured by the charming building in Buffelsdrift, a farming district nestled between the Swartberg and Langeberg mountains, Greg embarked on a design and renovation process that spanned four years and would transform the neglected property into a working olive farm.

The property included outbuildings that Greg also saw potential in – the old wine store, for example, would be given a second life as a guest suite. One of the challenges he faced was that some of the previous additions hadn’t been done particularly sensitively and, he says, “I wanted to strip the farmhouse back to what it was, and let it sit in a less encumbered way in the landscape.”

The buildings had been constructed using the poured earth method, and covered with various types of plaster over the years. Greg chose to collaborate with architect Jaco Booyens, who has a particular interest in building with clay and earth.

Peeling back the layers was the first step, says Greg. “We stripped the walls to assess the state of the mud structures; they were then repaired with clay collected from the property’s irrigation dam, which had been the source of the original material.”

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With the floors in bad shape, local poplar floorboards were sourced; the original yellowwood ceilings were also cleaned. The poplar pole roof structure was fixed and all original dowel fixings kept; gables and sash windows were repaired and internal poplar shutters added. Fortunately, the original thatch structure had been retained, and a specialist thatcher was able to restore the roof in keeping with the Cape Dutch architecture style. Greg chose to let small ghosts of the past remain, including the poplar lintels above the doors, leaving elements of the construction history visible. This commitment to the restoration’s purity scooped SAOTA and Jaco Booyens Architect a gold medal at the International Domus Restoration and Conservation Awards in Italy. Greg carefully considered the design of the lounge, which forms the heart of the main farmhouse. “These houses weren’t designed with passages; they only had rooms connected to each other,” he says. “The semi-circular sofa I designed for the lounge goes some way towards connecting the rooms.” Doorways off the lounge lead to two bedrooms and the kitchen. Another smart design decision to connect the rooms more intuitively was to install a double fireplace, linking the lounge and the kitchen. It is around both hearths that cold Karoo nights are spent cocooned. A puzzle of veld stone on the kitchen floor takes you to the adjacent bathroom, where a shower has been fashioned out of the original chimney and a small skylight draws in more light.

The bedrooms – two generous spaces that flank opposite sides of the lounge – are dominated by four-posted beds, and embellished with textured pieces and quirky finds. Nancy also added more personal touches, making cushions out of fabrics she and Greg have collected over time. As a result, the house has a very particular character. “I wanted to feel like there was some furniture that had always been here, along with new pieces,” says Greg.

International accolades aside, the triumph of this now-revived, beautiful slice of history is that it retains the essence of its heritage while feeling like it is very much of the now. The result is harmony – which is just what Greg and Nancy wanted in their Klein Karoo refuge.

Looking for more architectural inspiration? Check out this Muldersdrift farmhouse.