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Timber House

This small house is extremely compact at its core and opens up to allow the various activities of its inhabitants to unfold informally and in touch with the natural surroundings.

Designed for a writer and an editor and located at the foot of the Overberg Mountains in the village of Suurbraak the house is used as a retreat for solitary stretches of time as well as family holidays. The clients camped on the site for several years before erecting a beautiful wooden deck between existing trees. They wanted to retain something of the informal feel of camping while upgrading into a comfortable and elegant structure. What the clients aspired to and what was affordable were two different things, so we searched for examples outside of the fashionable cabin blogs. We took inspiration from the single-room fire-lookouts in Desolation Point (where Jack Kerouac spent time writing) as well as the flexibility of camper vans. Because the budget and footprint was limited, we came up with a compact core with a loft and two generous verandas. Together these spaces can sleep six adults. The loft serves as main bedroom and a study, the seating nook is fitted with standard mattresses and the veranda contains two big sofas. Depending on the weather, the house opens or closes by means of sliding glass doors and screens.

The house operates ‘off the grid’ using photovoltaic cells and batteries for electricity. Fresh water is fed off the mountain range and a gas geyser supplies hot water. A septic tank stores sewerage. Our involvement extended to council and working drawings only and the clients managed the building process using a local carpenter. A few salient details, like the glass between the rafters on the veranda and the large sliding doors were sketched up to resolve the digital model in which all timber pieces were shown. When we tested the house with our family, we found that the verandas worked incredibly well during both summer and winter. The main veranda became our favorite spot for having meals together and to lie in the winter sun.

The house is tiny, but feels grand due to the double volume of the loft and the different spatial atmospheres. Its construction is down-to-earth and direct, but the large sliding doors make it feel expansive. Daily rituals, like washing the dishes or showering, become memorable experiences. Placing these functions outside the house is a direct response to space and budget constraints, yet they add much joy. So much so, that for the first time, our kids fought to do the dishes! There is something magical about the house in its setting and it has a lot to do with our clients who are practical and hands-on, but also appreciate well thought out design. The many reviews on Air BnB show how positively people respond to the place. Here is one of our favourites:

“At the end of a forest track lies this little timber temple that exceeded all our expectations. Yes, it is even more beautiful than the pictures! The location is perfect, the birdlife abundant and it quickly becomes the kind of spot you never want to leave. It would have been wonderful to stay on, start your own veggie garden and live off the grid like the rest of the locals on this side of the river bank (guests are allowed to dream...). The kitchen has everything you could possibly need to cook food that tastes so much better in these unhurried surrounds. And the honesty system works very well - feel free to use supplies from the pantry, just replace with something similar. We loved everything about this place - thanks for all the attention to detail in the design of the hut and providing fun and beautiful items to find joy in during our stay.”

https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/10806002

Project team: Thorsten Deckler, Anne Graupner, Nicci Labuschagne, Isabel van Wyk de Gouveia, Matthew Liechti

Featured in Timber IQ April-May, 2016
Featured in Architecture SA July-August, 2016
Featured in SA Digest of Architecture, 2016
Featured in Home January, 2017

Photographed by David Southwood