House Tour

IN PICS | Pared-back design in a prefab pod cabin in the Western Cape

Built in just six weeks, this hideaway makes the most of the dramatic views afforded by its setting in the remote Breede Valley

27 June 2021 - 00:02 By Lori Cohen
Indigenous plants were planted around the cabin to create privacy and help it blend into the landscape.
Indigenous plants were planted around the cabin to create privacy and help it blend into the landscape.
Image: Warren Heath/Bureaux

An untouched piece of land on the edge of a fruit and wine farm in the Western Cape, overlooking a trout-heavy stream in the remote Breede Valley, is something special.

Creating an abode that would sit lightly in the pristine landscape called for smart thinking and sensitive design choices.

Floor-to-ceiling views and a prefabricated build that ticked comfort and affordability boxes were the simple brief given to architect Nikita van Zyl of ModHDesign by the owners of property, Trouthaven Farm. 

She collaborated with interior designer Kim Spyron of Oooh Interior Design on the project. Kim, a regular camper at the farm, relished the opportunity to bring her vision to the venture.

"I loved the idea of a simple pod structure that could be placed in the environment to maximise views, and prioritise privacy," she says.

"From the moment you drive up to the pod, you have a sense that this is your little pocket of nature. Every angle, movement or position presents you with a magnificent view. It radiates tranquility, ease and a sense of connection."

A view of the Breede Valley.
A view of the Breede Valley.
Image: Warren Heath/Bureaux

Dean Westmore of Space Agency, who built the Spaas Podular cabin, explains: "Made of lightweight steel, the laser-cut structures allow for total accuracy so they can be delivered on site, flat-packed and installed in six weeks."

The 60 pod, with two bedrooms and en-suite bathrooms, was designed as a laid-back getaway with a "cabin feel".

Presented with a petite footprint, Kim says working with a small space required her to approach design carefully to ensure "everything had its place". This functional approach had to be balanced with an ethereal one, ensuring that the cabin felt connected to the context of the landscape around it.

"It was important that the layout, furniture and other elements worked together to give it substance. I wanted to balance the hard black steel outer structure with a strong connection to nature internally," she says.

In short, Kim was led by "how it made her feel" when designing the interior. "Perched on a mountain it feels airy and fresh, and I took this as my inspiration. I set out to incorporate the element of air with my choice of materials and objects, which meant I was drawn to neutral shades."

The cabin was positioned to make the most of the views, and designed to fade into the landscape.
The cabin was positioned to make the most of the views, and designed to fade into the landscape.
Image: Warren Heath/Bureaux
The kitchen and lounge dominate the centre of the pod cabin and lead onto the deck. Furnishings that encourage the flow of air and light, such as a hanging rattan chair, and a perforated chair and coffee table were brought in.
The kitchen and lounge dominate the centre of the pod cabin and lead onto the deck. Furnishings that encourage the flow of air and light, such as a hanging rattan chair, and a perforated chair and coffee table were brought in.
Image: Warren Heath/Bureaux

The feeling of lightness and sense of expansiveness was also achieved through a playful approach to storage and fitted furniture. For example, recessed shelves were left exposed, and cabinets wall-mounted so they don't touch the floors.

"We took this philosophy right through the design from choosing sheer curtains to a perforated coffee table and laser-cut chair," says Kim.

Having to work within the available space, the living space is centralised, with a combined kitchen and lounge, and a fireplace that multitasks as a braai.

"The challenge was to provide sufficient storage and functional space in the kitchen without hindering the seating space. We needed a simple, flexible way of integrating the two. I intended to make it feel calm, airy and clutter-free," says Kim.

A solution was to provide versatile seating configurations. Lightweight chairs can be shifted towards kitchen conversations, or nearer the fireplace for a cosy nightcap. The hero of the space is a hanging chair that creates a "special spot", and was installed to have a specific line of sight down the valley.

"It can allow you to feel contained and private, but you can also swing one way to enjoy the view and back to participate in kitchen chatter."

The deck leads out from the kitchen and lounge and multitasks as a dining room with views over the valley.
The deck leads out from the kitchen and lounge and multitasks as a dining room with views over the valley.
Image: Warren Heath/Bureaux
A floating daybed sits alongside the outside dining table and pool on the deck. Pictured is interior designer Kim Spyro's son Silas.
A floating daybed sits alongside the outside dining table and pool on the deck. Pictured is interior designer Kim Spyro's son Silas.
Image: Warren Heath/Bureaux

The light timber cladding inside dominates the cabin and the palette of the wood was then used to make it part of the aesthetic. Anything added needed to blend or complement it, which led Kim to select blonde and neutral fabrics and woven elements, for example. Small concessions to glamour were made with a white kitchen counter embedded with recycled glass fragments, and a bronze and marble coffee table.

Compromises had to be made because of the size of the cabin, but Kim took this as an opportunity to treat the deck that leads from the kitchen/lounge as an additional room. A sail was installed above the dining table to shield it from the sun at the peak heat of the day. The kite-like structure attached to the perforated pergola is strategically placed and angled so it doesn't hinder the deck's views.

The pergola, which the sail attaches to, forms part of the cabin's structure and was added to break up the blocky feel of a modular build, says Dean. Instead of leaving the deck unroofed, the pergola also gives it a sense of context as an outside room.

The deck, which features a hanging day bed and heated circular pool, is home to al fresco dining and dreamy afternoon naps. It's all about living inside and outside seamlessly, says Kim.

"When we thought about the design we kept in mind the flow of the day and how we wanted to experience and journey through from morning to evening. We imagined someone sitting on the deck with their feet dangling into the pool, or children swimming while you're reading on the daybed."

A custom-built pool utilises a wood-heated coil system.
A custom-built pool utilises a wood-heated coil system.
Image: Warren Heath/Bureaux
A small, translucent sail was strategically placed to cool the space at sunset, without eclipsing the Breede Valley views.
A small, translucent sail was strategically placed to cool the space at sunset, without eclipsing the Breede Valley views.
Image: Warren Heath/Bureaux

With the natural focus falling on the lounge, kitchen and deck, Kim says it was important that the bedrooms and bathrooms weren't considered an afterthought. They work equally hard to maximise the use of space.

As a weekend getaway, generous cupboard space wasn't required. Instead of built-in cupboards, Kim chose to use one wall of the bedroom as a hybrid living space with a basin setup combined with black steel shelving for clothing. Shifting the basin into the bedrooms also allowed them to keep the bathrooms free of clutter.

Here too, Kim went to great lengths to source items that would speak to the philosophy of airiness while adding personality. Quirky cloud-shaped mirrors wrap around the shelving in the bedroom, capturing a glimpse of the views visible through a wall of glass and reflecting them. Above the basin a strip of windows inject mountain and sky views.

The pendant lamp was chosen for its streamlined silhouette and eliminated the need for bedside tables with lamps.
The pendant lamp was chosen for its streamlined silhouette and eliminated the need for bedside tables with lamps.
Image: Warren Heath/Bureaux
The main bedroom includes a basin and open storage. The windows above the basin play with perception and reflection.
The main bedroom includes a basin and open storage. The windows above the basin play with perception and reflection.
Image: Warren Heath/Bureaux

The bathrooms, which contain a shower and toilet, are bolted on to each side of the cabin and separated from the bedrooms with tracked sliding barn doors. Kim treated these units differently to the central modular pod they are attached to and instead of cladding, marble tiles were used for the walls.

"We wanted some movement in the tiles, so that the bathroom didn't feel too sterile. We landed on a white marble tile with mushroomy tone in veins," she says.

Showering is of course optional when there is a coil-heated circular pool that can be fire-heated at night. Cladded in raw wood, it is absorbed into its surroundings and sits level with the deck, so the view is unencumbered.

Says Kim: "Everything we did internally and externally had thought put into it in terms of how it would contribute to pulling the environment into the space again." - Bureaux.co.za


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