PHOTOS Johan Engels, Adriaan Oosthuizen, Simon Scarboro, Adri Meyer WORDS Debbie Loots
There’s a farm in the Overberg that never sleeps. It’s always busy there. If the owners aren’t converting the farmhouse, the outbuildings or the barn into a lively party and wedding venue, they’re rearranging the furniture. Or the potted plants.
You can safely bet on the good morning crow of an out-of-time rooster when you visit Halfaampieskraal. But that’s it, and that’s good. For the rest of your time there, you have to allow things to unfold in expectation of wonder, because this is a working guest farm where surprise is part of the collection of furniture, and that’s good. With this established, let’s move on.
The beginning is a good place to start – if only we knew where it was, of course. So, let’s pretend. Or, let’s take it from where Jan-Georg Solms took over the reigns of the farm himself. The time from when he worked on the original homestead, knocking down walls so light could fill the rooms, when he lifted carpets, stripped and painted walls and broke down ceilings to expose the heavy beams, when he created a new sense of space – his own – with due respect though, to the original structure. He found new homes for the family heirlooms and arranged these to fit neatly around his own fabulous finds. Collectors items from here and there, from far away, from Greece especially, but specifically from wherever took his fancy.
Not long after the dust had settled around this renovation, his partner, Cobus Geldenhuys, spotted the farm’s dilapidated shed and their minds started ticking… Club Havana it was to be, and so it was. A place for celebration, for joy, for entertainment. And, enough space to dance. All year round.
Work started and immediately a party was organised and friends invited. But, as the numbers on the guestlist increased, so did their concern. Where would everybody sleep? They looked at the old farm school and blacksmith’s forge with new eyes and, within six weeks, the historic outbuildings were turned into a luxurious three-bedroom guesthouse, en suite bathrooms to boot.
The looming party was the driving force behind their tireless labour, and the end result was a delight. Two of the guests were in for an added surprise when they discovered the showers were built on the outside, with Jersey cows and a free-roaming goose their only voyeurs.
With all in place, Club Havana, as well as the guesthouse, were both ready to roll and their doors were opened to let in old friends and new guests. Halfaampieskraal wore a new, shinier, if slightly unusual, jacket – not out of character of its inventive owners.
Soon the news spread of the stupendous hosts and their hospitality, of Cobus’s propensity to cook paella in their large fireplace, of the world’s most amazing glass of gin and tonic. And so, this became the place to be if a party was on the cards, if knots needed to be tied, in fact, if anything for any reason had to be celebrated.
But, just as everything seemed to be rolling along nicely, Jan-Georg and Cobus saw more indoor fixing-up to be done. They added a new fireplace to the farmhouse’s foyer and the walls became canvasses for Jan-Georg’s fine artist sister, Nelia du Toit. Inspired by the romance of the Renaissance, she singlehandedly painted a forest-like dreamscape in tones of green oil washes. Whimsical portrayals of all sorts of foliage now serve as backdrop to actual plants and trees extending the old world-mood into this, now aptly titled, Plantation Room.
New, large wooden folding doors provide a natural flow between the foyer and the porch, brimming with more plants. Trees of all types and sizes, hide the Adirondack chairs dating back to the 1920s.
Maybe time for a breather now? Or not. A little birdy came calling, bearing news. And it wasn’t the croak of the out-of-time rooster that told us that Jan-Georg and Cobus have plans to turn another little house on the farm, situated on the other side of a ravine, into a minimalist marvel. One just for them. In the words of Jan-Georg himself: “It may be a place like Gandhi lived in when he spent time in Johannesburg. Quiet, white, open spaces, and lots of natural wood. And shutters, mostly shut. We’ll see.”