IN PICTURES | Contrast's been used to great effect in this Karoo home's decor
Built on a farm dating back to the 1800s, this black-and-white interiors of this farmhouse pay homage to the property's heritage in a wonderfully modern way
SA's Karoo region would not be the obvious choice for big-city residents to set up their weekend getaway. The semi-desert landscape of flat, far-as-the-eye-can-see plains dotted with tiny hills known as koppies appears to the uninformed as rather unwelcoming. But, says Cornel Strydom who, together with her husband Neill, built Pink Hill Karoo, a farmhouse just outside Colesberg (a six-hour drive from their home in Pretoria), this is exactly what attracted them to the area.
"We love it for its remoteness, its nothingness, and how exposed it is," she explains of their choice to build on the farm they bought from her parents, who continue to live in the original farmhouse a kilometre away, assisting with the day-to-day farming of the fine-wool merino sheep .
"It's so different to being in the city," says Cornel, referring to her and Neill's more fast-paced everyday lifestyle, where they are the SA distributors for the Romo Group's fabrics and wallcoverings. "The Karoo landscape heightens the senses because there's no clutter. There's a simplicity there - openness and a sense of freedom."
Having designed the architecture and interiors of Pink Hill Karoo herself, Cornel has carefully forged every experience of the home and its surroundings to highlight this sentiment.
The house, built with stones that were a loosely packed boundary wall of an ostrich farm in the 1800s, is invisible from a distance, camouflaged in its almost arid environment, the flat-roof form blending into the countryside. It's only as one reaches the end of the dirt road that the two-bedroom family home makes itself known.
The entrance hall enhances this sense of arrival, its large glass doors welcoming one from the Karoo backdrop into the home that here hints at the texture, pattern and monochromatic scheme awaiting within. "The entrance hall is a big luxury," smiles Cornel, "but it's not a wasted space. It's a room for transitioning from your journey. It tells you 'I'm here now'."
Beyond the entrance, behind its passage-like wall, the rectangular-shaped home is more fully revealed, its central lounge giving off to the two bedrooms on one end, and the kitchen and reading room on the other, and a stoep out back running the length of the building.
"I kept my design as simple as possible," Cornel explains of this basic layout. "I was thinking of the simplest thing anyone could have built 200 years ago in the area."
Since the farm on which Pink Hill Karoo stands has been formally occupied from 1830, and inhabited before that by hunter-gatherer bushmen, her approach does the heritage justice. It's here that the Battle of Pink Hill was fought in 1900 during the Anglo-Boer War, and relics from this time, as well as 2, 000-year-old stone tools, are often discovered by the family on walks.
In the reading room a contemporary ceramic plate displays colourful broken shards of antique, found porcelain, the contradiction of old and new a deliberate undertaking. "I like to layer with contrasts," Cornel explains, pointing to her use of dark and light, glass and wood, round and angular forms, and shiny and matt finishes throughout the architecture and interiors.
The lounge expresses itself as a focal black space in the middle of the home, while the four rooms enveloping it are white-washed. "The house pulls you in so that it's not simply about moving from one room to another," Cornel explains of the intentional purpose present in every colour, pattern and surface choice. "When you're in a dark room looking into the light, or in a light room looking into the dark, you're enticed and drawn in."
Having worked with fabrics for much of their lives, the Strydoms have mastered the art of layering with texture, and this Karoo home, decorated with bare necessities, is an exercise in pared-back plushness. "I don't believe a barren landscape should exclude luxurious surfaces," says Cornel.
Romo's glass-bead wallpaper in the reading room, a golden side table in the lounge and sheepskin rugs throughout the home talk to this subconscious sense of luxe amid the limited colour scheme.
Equally intentional is her inclusion of circular elements in the rectangular rooms. Round mirrors, tables and lampshades are her way of introducing feminine forms amid masculine shapes, the male and female juxtaposition present, too, in the monochromatic theme, the thorny, flowering Crateagus (hawthorn) Cornel painted on the kitchen wall, and in the full-on immersion in both daytime and night-time when staying on the farm.
Wooden shutters guard doors and windows but are never shut. The koppies, buck, plains and grasses and bushveld, sheep, stars, sunrises and sunsets are what living here is about. Cornel sums it up: "To see the veld from your bedroom when you wake up, and to lie in bed longer ... That's why you come."