A contemporary, off-grid cabin built on an expanse of semi-desert on the edge of a nature reserve in SA’s Klein Karoo has become a favourite retreat for Capetonians David and Tracey Petzer. David and Tracey first discovered the country getaway through their friends Cobus Van Wyk and Ruan Van Der Venter. After 16 years in the UK, Cobus and Ruan recently returned to SA and fell in love with the 110-acre farm consisting of pristine wilderness.
They bought the homestead with the vision of building a cabin where they could devote themselves entirely to hiking and stargazing. The cabin, named “Suidster” ( “Star of the South” in Afrikaans), offers both.
“The fynbos that grows here reminded us of Scotland and we dreamed of creating a beautiful structure where we could just enjoy nature,” Cobus says. Working with interior designer and consultant Hendre Bloem, they built an open, steel-clad bungalow that now hugs the hillside and features a cool, contemporary styling, with windows and doors primed to capture views. With the bed centred in the room, the layout was intentionally kept simple and open for a modern and relaxed feel.
“For the interior we wanted to keep everything very raw and natural - almost like you would expect on a farm but in an unconventional way,” Hendre says. The walls were left unplastered and whitewashed to contrast the black, exposed ceiling and beams.
“We knew we wanted a barn-style structure, but other than that the only limits on the design were that it had to be as practical and sustainable as possible,” Hendre says. Set in a landscape with extreme temperature fluctuations, the climate control was also critical. This was achieved by building multi-layered walls of brick, cavities, insulation and the corrugated steel exterior cladding.
“The view was an important factor but we strategically chose the windows and the orientation of the windows and doors to provide protection from the heat on the most exposed orientations,” Hendre says.
They wanted to have as little impact on the environment as possible, so the house is powered entirely by solar energy and features a gas stove. Considering the landscape, they also limited the footprint to an 11-by-6-metre rectangular building.
When planning the interior, Hendre explains, he did not want to have to choose a specific view for each living area, so instead he opted for an open-floor plan with seamless views. In a radical but effective move he placed the bed in the centre of the cabin, using it to divide the cabin into four semi-separate zones.
A headboard with a return detail subtly encloses the bed to physically and visually create a smaller, more intimate and functional area. The headboard serves as an internal barrier separating the sleeping area from the “lounge” area behind it. The sofa leans against the back of the headboard, with a fireplace, rug and coffee table establishing an intimate space to relax.
Another simple but effective design trick to divide the cabin and make the areas read separately was the introduction of flooring made of identical materials but in different hues. A cooler grey handmade brick was used for the kitchen and bathroom areas while a lighter tone was chosen for the central bedroom and living area.
Hendre designed a multifunctional space for the kitchen with a generous island that acts as an extension of the living room. The cabinets were custom-made from steel and raw wood, and everything else in the kitchen is intentionally hidden and integrated.
“You have the beauty of the precise details of the table but the material itself is used in its raw, natural state,” says Hendre, who custom-designed much of the furniture and fittings. The kitchen opens to a west-facing terrace leading to a barbecue area on one side and a solar-heated hot tub - an essential facilitator of nocturnal sky surveillance.
The bathroom echoes some of the kitchen’s features and materials but is slightly softened with a traditional freestanding bathtub with claw feet and Victorian-era-inspired sinks and brassware from Burlington.
The bathtub also serves as a romantic statement, easily hidden in the loose fabric panels that hang from the three-sided railing above the tub. Contrasting the light tones is the shower, which features bold handmade ochre tiles reflecting the earthy tones of the landscape.
In the living area the two-sided fireplace proved to be a successful design decision but one that was made for practical reasons. Hendre explains that it allowed them to share the chimney of the indoor fireplace and that of the outdoor barbeque.
It also creates a single, striking, monument-like shape that stands out from the otherwise plain structure. When you arrive the distinctive silhouette of the chimney stands out against the dark, rectangular steel cabin, hinting at the exciting design inside. For Cobus the cabin has the understated luxury and small footprint they wanted. It does not distract from the real stars of the show - the mountains, the sky and the fynbos.