Koringberg Character Cottage

PHOTOS Jan Ras PRODUCTION Sumien Brink WORDS Johan van Zyl and Peter van Noord

It may be on the wrong side of the tracks, but for Johan van Zyl and Peter van Noord this house in the Swartland village of Koringberg is home.

Johan says: “We met in the winter of 2005, the house on the corner and the two of us. It looked like a custard slice on the outside and a cross between an abandoned fireworks factory and a uterus on the inside, but we signed the offer to purchase anyway.

“‘We bought a weekend house,’ we told our friends in Stellenbosch and Cape Town, where we lived and worked, respectively, at the time. ‘What did you smoke/drink/pop/snort?’ they responded after they saw the horrible ‘happy’ snaps that had us gushing away like town-house trash about the ‘never-ending spaces’ that we were planning to ‘paint white from floor to ceiling’ to make them look even bigger. Plus knock out two walls built by the previous owners. Plus plant a garden where there were just two rusty old jalopies and a fig tree. Plus resign as soon as we could. Plus plant a vegetable garden and an olive grove…

“By April 2006 we had survived a builder who faked a brain tumour as excuse for running away with our money, we’d gone to court to recover an eight-door kitchen cupboard stolen from the garage, and we’d had to fend off an estate agent who wanted to get into the shower with us.

“In August 2010 we moved to Koringberg permanently.

“I now feel happy when I look at those old snaps when the house on the corner belonged to someone else… happy, because I don’t recognise anything.

“Still, it is a simple house with nothing fancy, like Koringberg is a simple village with nothing fancy. We come home and we know where we are, who we are. We know how we feel. We feel understood. Welcome. Home.”

Peter says: “Our house is right in the centre of Koringberg. When we stopped outside it for the first time, its location bothered us, tucked as it is between the main street and the railway line (with the house on the wrong side of the tracks), right across from the Spaza shop and the liquor store (the only businesses in town). Inside, however, the house turned on its charm: high ceilings, thick walls, large rooms. The location no longer mattered.

“The house has a colourful history. In its day it was a Jewish merchant’s shop and the place where farmers would bring their workers on Friday afternoons to get wine.

“It has also been home to some interesting characters, among them the sisters Sulene Steyn and the late Alida Jordaan who divided the house into two separate living areas – one of which Alida decorated with generous amounts of the brightest-of-bright glossy paint. Then, years ago, there was mal Elsie, who would sit on the porch and harass every passer-by for a candle and a packet of Marie biscuits. Apparently she had stacks of these.

“Today, it is the place where we live and work. Where we planted 180 olive trees and 20 fruit trees and 60 trees for shade and a lot of vegetable and flower beds. Where the cats have 8000m2 to frolic (and where the mice live in fear). Where farmers drop in to have a coffee or a drink. Where friends love to visit.

“It’s as if I were there on that day in 1919 when the first clay bricks were laid. Because the Wit Huis op Koringberg (White House in Koringberg) has become the centre of my existence.”