Desert calm

This en­vi­ron­men­tally re­spon­sive hol­i­day villa has a po­etic con­nec­tion to the ex­tremes of the land­scape

ELLE Decoration (UK) - - Contents -

Dubbed one of the qui­etest places on earth, the Great Ka­roo is a vast semi-desert re­gion in South Africa where heat, frost, drought and floods are ex­pe­ri­enced in al­most bi­b­li­cal pro­por­tions. And yet, when Lon­don-based, South African-born Jen­nifer Ben­ing­field, founder of Open­stu­dio Ar­chi­tects, and her hus­band, pub­lisher David Jenk­ins, were shown an avail­able piece of land here a cou­ple of years ago, they didn’t hes­i­tate to buy.

‘ We have hol­i­dayed in the Ka­roo for the last ten to fif­teen years,’ says Jen­nifer, who trav­els here at least three times a year with her hus­band and six-year-old daugh­ter. ‘It’s a re­mote, an­cient place, where the light on the moun­tains changes from hour to hour. With very lit­tle light pol­lu­tion, the night sky is pro­foundly beau­ti­ful.’

Set against the dra­matic Swart­berg moun­tains, the house has a sense of re­mote­ness, de­spite be­ing within walk­ing dis­tance of the arty town of Prince Al­bert. Jen­nifer’s vi­sion was for a con­tem­po­rary struc­ture that would mimic the tex­ture and depth of much older build­ings. ‘As part of my de­sign process, I spent a lot of time on the site, feel­ing the sun and wind in an at­tempt to as­so­ciate spa­ces with the ter­rain,’ she says.

Es­sen­tially a 5.7-me­tre-high square cube, the liv­ing space has win­dows and shut­ters lo­cated near the ceil­ing that al­low heat to es­cape and cool breezes to en­ter. Ori­en­tated east to west, the prin­ci­pal rooms in the house all face north, and there­fore soak up the full force of the sun. Lime­washed, rough-cast ren­der on the brick walls re­mains cool even in ex­treme tem­per­a­tures, while dark brick floors are an im­por­tant part of the house’s ther­mal strat­egy, ab­sorb­ing the heat of the day and re­leas­ing it at night.

The prop­erty is laid out over two floors, with the en­trance lo­cated off a front court­yard planted with aca­cia trees – in the fu­ture, the green­ery will pro­vide much-needed shade for vis­i­tors. Step in­side, and you are wel­comed by a large, open-plan liv­ing, din­ing and kitchen area that leads out onto an­other court­yard. This more in­for­mal out­door space links to the pool and the sur­round­ing thorn trees and scrub. In or­der to blend in with the land­scape, the gar­den has been planted with bushes and plants which at­tract the lo­cal birds, but­ter­flies and bees. There are also two bed­rooms on the ground floor, with a fur­ther two small guest rooms and a roof ter­race on the up­per level. The ter­race is the ideal spot for stargaz­ing at night.

‘My favourite room in the house is un­doubt­edly the main liv­ing space,’ says Jen­nifer. ‘It looks north to­wards the aca­cia trees and south to­wards the Swart­berg moun­tains.’ The slid­ing doors that lead to the front and rear court­yards align per­fectly with one an­other, so that you can look straight through the house from one end to the other and out across the Ka­roo. ‘The last time we were here, both doors were open and two large birds flew right through the liv­ing room,’ adds Jen­nifer. ‘I like that our home has be­come so much a part of the land­scape.’ open­stu­dioar­chi­


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