Tulbagh Getaway: Streamside Cabin

INTERVIEWED BY Michaela Stehr PHOTOS courtesy of @cabin_fever_cpt

Co-owners and partners Christopher Norman and Lara Horne took a chance on creating a unique getaway inspired by their family, nature and the endless possibilities of imagination. The result? Streamside Cabin – a creative pet-friendly escape outside the quaint town of Tulbagh.

What was the idea behind Streamside and how did it come into fruition?

Streamside is an expansion of an idea that was originally conceived by my brother Thor and my mother Jenny. They created a unique stay, “Sunset Dome”, that really took off in a way that none of us could’ve expected (you could say viral within the realms of accommodation businesses).

My brother had always maintained a childlike wonder and imagination, which paired perfectly with my mother’s creativity and experience as an architect. So, my partner Lara and I, with the blessing and encouragement of the original creators, gave us the opportunity to put our own spin on a tried and tested concept. Lara took a leap of faith with this idea by investing her life’s savings she’d accumulated towering the ranks of the FinTech industry and with some interior design expertise she picked up from doing marketing for Hertex fabrics. I found myself in an incredibly privileged position to have both my partner’s and my family’s vote of confidence to act as project manager. In terms of the idea, it was inspired by another but with the motivation to up the ante and do the family members who preceded us with the original concept proud. 

Who is behind the design and the build?

This build was very much a collaborative effort. Lara and I had veto rights on any creative decision, but we leaned on so many for opinions. My mother was the one who took a kooky idea of ours and made it into something that could exist within the realm of possibility and also within budget constraints. Without limitations, I think we would’ve ended up with something you’d see in a Lord of the Rings film. But alas… One day we’ll bring the shire to Tulbagh! My mother’s new boyfriend and travel companion also came through with some unique suggestions and contacts for the property with some slick design and functionality inspired by his sailing background. You’ll see aluminium beams, nylon spliced rope, and hand railing posts that you might find on your modern yachts. This is just something that will help prevent our seafaring guests from getting land sick in the heart of the Boland.

My family out in Mpumalanga also deserve an honourable mention as they let us steal with our eyes. They too, have also been influential in the process by letting us find out what makes their beautiful accommodations as successful as they are. I needn’t mention my brother as a constant confidant throughout the project who has the imagination to see the potential before the work is done. In essence, we absorb our favourite elements of what those nearest to us have to share and try to materialise it in a way that most celebrates those findings.  

What was your process for getting started?

We scoured the farm with a few potential sites in mind. We all took a nice leisurely family stroll and happened upon a clearing perched next to a stream and fully enclosed by indigenous trees that, in all honestly, was not on any of our radars. I think we were all kind of shocked that none of us conceived it as a viable spot, but when the first person said it the rest of us were just parroting “this is it, this is it”. Thus the site was confirmed. We looked at the nice level ground, and thought to ourselves, how do we elevate the site to see the sunset from this spot but also the mountain backdrop? Then the ideas started flooding “what if we do multi-tiered decking for elevation?”, “oooh, a custom stone wall hot tub!”, “glass walls”, “exposed scissor trusses” etc. When you’re in my position you don’t need any motivation but rather just a way of taming and compartmentalising floods of ideas in an organised way. Just to be involved in a creative process like this is self-propelling.

How did you conceptualise and prototype the geodome?

Aside from the dome itself – a carbon copy of what my family have already done, the rest of it comes from doodling and Pinterest. Take a glance at something you like, don’t look at it for too long and draw it in a way your memory photographed it and it will invariably be something different. My mother actually sourced the photo of an original concept that was an CGI image and then she drew a sketch of it that actually veered off quite drastically with little tweaks here and there, and we then cut and carved it into something that was applicable to the surrounding area, as well as our preferences. It then just sort of moulded into what you now see in the photos. The prototype is based on a drawing that a child could do with some inspiration from existing infrastructure on the farm and then drawn to scale into something a contractor can interpret to then build. As a general ethos, we endeavour to work backwards from a zany idea instead of going for something safe and making it a little bit more quirky. As I mentioned about my brother’s childlike imagination, we try to build in a way that a child would look at and go “Whoa”. Tap into the Peter Pan syndrome even if it’s just for a 2-night stay. More often our concern would be worrying if we played it too safe rather than did we go eccentric enough. In our eyes, you can always default to creature comforts and practical arrangements in the real world. Walking on a cold deck through the rain to an outdoor shower is an inconvenience but definitely more of an adventure. 

What does the area offer?

On the farm itself, we have the famous Cape Epic cycling track maintained by our passionate mountain biking community that can double up as a hiking trail. This trail meanders up to the base of the mountain we live against that then leads you onto a private hiking trail to a waterfall only our guests have access to. The farm is also active so roaming it would entail encounters with farm doggies, sheep, cows, blue cranes, harrier hawks, owls, duikers, and secretary birds (if you’re lucky and come at the right time) just to name a few. In the greater Tulbagh region, the first point of call would be going to the legendary breakfast/lunch/coffee hub Kole & Deeg. Best food and coffee in town and are completely authentic, and proud to have them in our humble valley. Wine tasting is a big deal around here, Montpellier, Oude Compagnies Post, and Twee Jonge Gezellen to name a few. Tulbagh Boutique Hotel and Duiker’s Drift for your evening dinners. Beyond the above mentioned there is certainly more but coming for a short visit that will definitely fill your cup! 

Tell us about the surrounding landscape and terrain. How did this impact the build?

What I’ve learned is you have to lean into what the site inherently has to offer and accentuate those natural features because we love the idea of the value being shared evenly between the natural environment and the build itself. It’s also a nice lazy way of letting the site do the work for you. Our glass walls for example is essentially a way of getting flora wallpaper for free except it’s not mimicking nature, it just is. Our key natural features would be the Witzenberg mountain backdrop, we wanted to have that in view from the bedroom window and also within the living room kitchen space. During sunset, it turns into this glowing purple slab that really stands so juxtaposed to the colours of the flora around you. It’s a really pleasing contrast. Also, the namesake stream which our guests have told us is the most soothing, ever-present sound that gives an incredible sense of calm throughout their stay. So on all sensory levels, the site has a lot to offer. 

What materials did you use?

It’s a bit of a mixture. Some are repurposed materials and some are new. Wooden decking, Glass walls with aluminium framing, corrugated and painted roof sheets, quartz tops for kitchen tops and vanity counter in the bathroom, laminated beam trusses, stone from the farm for hot tub and bathroom cladding, old Eskom telephone poles stained black, nylon spliced Rope, anodised masts. I’m sure I’ve missed many but those are the standout materials. We also stuck to a colour pallet of predominantly black and beige. Subconsciously, I think that was inspired by Zen-style Japanese interior design. Probably influenced by when Lara visited Japan a couple of years ago. The stained black wood is certainly a nod to Japanese tradition. Mind you we cheated with black varnish as opposed to burning the wood as a method of treatment. Will give it a go on the next project no doubt. 

How did you decide on an interior decor scheme?

Keeping in mind a modern, minimalist aesthetic, opting for shades of black and beige in the colour palette. As mentioned the subtle nods to the Japanese but by no means an attempt to call it Japanese. This is the part of the project where we worked within the constraints of a palette that funnelled us into a limited selection. From there the best option leapt out at us. I’m a big sufferer of option paralysis so working with constraints really helps get you to those right choices. 

Did you use any local makers or designers for the space?

We did everything in-house in terms of design and decor but the finishes were sourced by local suppliers. By in large local but occasionally from an overseas supplier. The first pick is always to support local. In the process, we found what talent and craftsmanship emanate from our wonderful country. 

You can either book directly to stay at Streamside via email or through their Airbnb and Booking.com listings.

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