It’s no mean feat to preserve the nostalgic feel of a house, yet give it a distinctly modern sensibility – but that’s exactly what architect Lisa Rorich and interior decorator Robyn Constantinou have achieved with their extensive renovation of this farmhouse in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.
The whitewashed façade is classic, yet burnt Japanese cedar-clad courtyards give it a contemporary feel that hints at the stylish young family for whom it was designed. ‘It was the setting which originally attracted us,’ they say. ‘We are passionate about the Midlands and dreamed of a home where we could raise cattle and get away from the hustle of city life.’ The property had a mixed herd and a ramshackle house, both of which had considerable potential and the couple set about transforming them – the herd into exclusively Bonsmara cows and the house into a modern home that somehow feels like it has been here for years.

They enlisted the help of Lisa and Robyn to design the building around the existing stone replace. ‘We wanted to reinterpret farm style here,’ Lisa says. ‘It was important to emphasise details like the texture of materials such as stone and timber, which are often lost in new buildings, while keeping the design modern with elements such as open-plan and courtyard spaces.’ The result is a contemporary barn that pays homage to the area with locally sourced materials taking centre stage, including poplar beams and stone from the farm and Japanese cedar grown and treated in the nearby Karkloof Valley.

Robyn’s interiors have a pared-back elegance; for example, instead of a fussy built-in kitchen, a collection of freestanding pieces serve as cabinetry alongside a generous kitchen table and the architectural details have been allowed to shine by keeping the palette largely neutral and the textures natural. She designed most of the raw-wood furniture and had it crafted from a dead cypress found on the farm. The kitchen and bathroom ttings were custom-made. ‘This is a family home, so including inherited, sentimental and bespoke pieces was essential,’ she explains.

To accommodate large parties of guests, a dormitory space includes a double bed and a spacious bathroom, and three guest bedrooms and an outside bedroom ensure plenty of space for friends and family.
‘Despite the high ceilings, we didn’t want the house to be rambling,’ says Robyn. ‘Plenty of cosy zones to rest and recharge were a must.’ This informal, inviting feel is obvious in the lounge, which is centred around the striking, double-sided fireplace. Generous verandas lead off both sides of the house, encouraging outdoor living. Touches of Delft blue and whitewashed stone walls accomplish a balance of classic and contemporary in the living areas.
The architects also considered the position of the sun during the day and over the seasons. ‘We gave the family outdoor places to catch the best light year-round,’ explains Lisa. A built-in pizza oven is perennially popular with guests, as is picking toppings directly from the veggie gardens. ‘Friends also love the outside showers,’ the owners say. ‘You would think it might be too cold for an al fresco rinse here, but on a winter morning it’s so invigorating.’ The showers are situated in a series of timber boxes that create courtyard spaces designed to allow natural light to flood the bathrooms and make the bedrooms bright and airy. ‘The timber walls of the courtyards are constructed from cedar treated through the traditional Japanese process of Shou Sugi Ban burning,’ explains Lisa. ‘They work with the doors and windows to create an attractive rhythm and add drama to the white walls.’

The barn-style feel of the exterior and the play of textures inside this characterful home integrate to produce the best of both worlds – modern living in a timeless farmhouse.

Text: Pamela Whitby; Photography: Lar Photography/Perfect Hideaways

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