When the owner, a former retail executive, established Le Poirier in 2018, it was conceived more as a weekend winelands escape than as a permanent home. Over a number of years (and many a bottle of wine), she and architect Martin Kruger refined the design into something of an architectural wonder. They created a contemporary homage to the local Cape vernacular, fusing modern and traditional elements, in a home surrounded by gardens, vines, beds of veggies, fruit and olive trees, and fragrant fynbos.
The house is positioned in a pear orchard overlooking a stream — hence the name, which means “place of pears”. Initially, it was decided not to farm commercially because of the pesticides required.
The house invites in the beautiful mountain views on one side, and wraps around a series of courtyards on the other. The gardens, too, are a wonder, designed with landscaper Danie Steenkamp of DDS Projects. They are sensitively knitted into the architecture and the broader landscape beyond.
A series of arches is repeated inside the house and throughout the gardens and courtyards, where they act as interleading elements, creating gateways and stitching together the interior and exterior “rooms”. It’s difficult to draw a line where architecture ends and garden begins, and in turn where the gorgeous naturalistic elements stop and nature takes over. While the main courtyard is devoted to the vineyard, the others surrounding the house were designed to accommodate a vegetable garden, olive grove, and “gin garden” with the lemons, limes, grapefruit, oranges, and rosemary needed to mix sundowners.
Although the beginnings of a farm-to-fork philosophy were at play, ultimately, the owner says, the house was conceived for entertaining, relaxing, and appreciating nature. But that changed dramatically with the onset of the pandemic and the first hard lockdowns of 2020.
The owner and her partner moved to the house permanently just before the first wave of the pandemic gripped South Africa and the rest of the world. They might have escaped the city and found themselves “locked down in paradise”, as she puts it, but food security was nevertheless a concern. They also found the job losses and economic damage wrought by the pandemic alarming. This prompted them to ask deepening questions about the way we live, and particularly about our relationship with the planet — a process that had already begun when they built the house during the drought in the Western Cape.
“We’re both quite into exercise,” the owner says, and while she would go for regular 10km trail runs around the property, her partner was training for the Iron Man triathlon (“before events were cancelled”) and would venture even further afield. “We started wearing down paths and going to corners [of the farm] that we don’t usually visit, particularly across our little river,” she says. She remembers thinking, “Wow, look at all this space … we could do something here.” So they did. Moving quickly, they ordered as many seeds and seedlings as they could find, hired some extra hands, and set about creating more food gardens. “Things cascaded,” she says. Now, her original vision of a house surrounded by gardens has exploded to include organically farmed fruit, vegetables, flowers, nuts, and herbs.
While looking for instruction on YouTube and the like, they also came across more substantial fodder for inspiration in documentary films such as Kiss the Ground and The Biggest Little Farm, which set them on the path of regenerative agriculture and permaculture. Alongside the more substantial food gardens, the courtyards have become home to a combination of bought and rescued ducks, rabbits, chickens, and alpacas, which maintain an ecological balance and sustain soil health. (All are named after international celebrities, and there are some striking resemblances!). They have been joined by fish and bees, too.
The owner points out that, as someone who had worked “in retail all my life, I’d bought the product that I’d sourced. I never bought from farmers’ markets. I have learnt how people get an immense amount of joy out of that process.” Le Poirier now supplies beautiful seasonal vegetable boxes to local residents and guesthouses. They collect waste from local restaurants, too, which feed five worm farms and a compost heap.
In their embrace of a vegetarian lifestyle, they have become vocal in their support for the principles of regenerative agriculture — care of self and care of the planet. This sea change in Le Poirier’s destiny, prompted by the pandemic, the owner says, also precipitated a new and better “understanding [of] our property and what it could be in the [local] community”. Le Poirier now employs nine people (they started with two), who in turn support 37 dependents. “It was a beautiful house built for entertaining,” she muses, “but now, that same architecture fulfils that original ambition [and] so much more. This has added some serious soul to it.”
Styling: Elsa Young
• From the February edition of Wanted, 2022.