Building mindfully

An architect and documentary producer teamed up to create an industrial off-the-grid pad that’s perfectly in tune with its country setting in the eastern Free State.

Wessel van Huyssteen wanted a fuss-free, no maintenance, contemporary, green, low-cost weekend retreat in Rosendal in the eastern Free State, where he could think and create to his heart’s content.

This site has high visibility with no nearby buildings, as it’s situated on the outskirts of the town,’ explains architect Daniel van der Merwe. ‘It’s positioned high up on a hill with sweeping views of the surrounding landscape and dam.’ Daniel was tasked with constructing this clever holiday home that’s robust and cost conscious, but also maximises the panoramic views, and allows for add-ons over time.

Natural habitat

The inspiration for the house came from Australian barn architecture, as I grew up on a farm and was surrounded by barns as a child, so it was logical to follow that aesthetic,’ explains Wessel. The initial idea behind the home was two-fold: Daniel looked at the basic building materials and technologies used in the area, including sandstone, steel, recycled timber, straw, corrugated steel sheeting, and more. Then he considered the basic building skills on offer in the area, which consisted of the construction of farm sheds and barns, and the dry-stacking of sandstone traditionally used to construct walls, buildings and cattle enclosures.

Daniel has his own place in Rosendal. This made a huge difference in helping him understand the context, climate, local materials and skills and proved invaluable during the design process.

‘We could keep the construction costs to about R550 000 with clever use of inexpensive materials and construction technology,’ says Daniel.

The spaces between us

Initially designed as a two-bedroom home, the concept evolved to allow for a more open-plan living space with only one separate bedroom so as not to divide the area and obstruct flow.

A simple mono-pitched roof was designed, cutting down on the costs of manufacturing trusses and enabling the catchment of rainwater in tanks at the back of the house. This also allowed them to open up the structure to the north for a view of the landscape, and now accommodates the angle of the winter sun as it warms up the house, while allowing cool air to circulate in summer. The solar panels on the roof are hidden behind the entrance canopy and supply sufficient power for lights and appliances.

The height of the roof allows for an additional sleeping deck, nestling snugly on top of the bathroom, for the occasional visitor. The kitchen was designed as an integral part of the space and its cupboards that double as a staircase to the mezzanine level were designed by Wessel who had them built by a local craftsman.

The interior is masculine but not intimidating, with a well-proportioned, high-volume living space. ‘It’s basically a shed and in time Wessel can make it into an L-shape or U-shape, depending on his needs,’ says Daniel, who loves the comfortable, down-to-earth, yet industrial look of the decor theme that Wessel has chosen. ‘Most of the furniture was sourced in the area from second-hand shops or local craftsmen, ‘The table, for example, is the work of a carpenter in Ladybrand, a neighbouring town,’ says Wessel.

But it’s outside where the magic takes place. ‘I had dreams of having a completely indigenous garden,’ recalls Wessel, ‘and although most of the plants are indigenous, I also planted a few oak and willow trees as very few other trees would grow in this very cold spot.’ He is slowly re-introducing endemic plants such as Crinums, Kniphofias. Eucomis, Gladiolus, and arum lilies into the garden to add color to the grass landscape.

Daniel also believes it’s what surrounds the home that makes this place so special. The landscape here is so dramatic and has so many layers of interest, you will never be bored,’ he smiles, enchanted with its spiritual nature. Together they’ve created the perfect place for Wessel to hide out and let the magic of creativity unfold.

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