Marcus Smit and his friends Len and Herman Kruger
Vosburg in the Northern Cape Karoo
155m2 (including outside rooms); erf 2 700m2
When the Home team visited Vosburg in July 2020, Ricks Karoo Winkel – the only restaurant in the village – specially opened its doors a day earlier than the planned official opening.
“Prior to that, there was no restaurant in Vosburg,” says architect Marcus Smit, co-owner of the getaway cottage we had come to photograph. “Ricks was supposed to open on Wednesday but I told them we were expecting visitors, so they had to open on Tuesday night,” he says with a smile.
And that’s how it is in Vosburg. “The village is off the beaten track, so it gets very few visitors. It’s also very peaceful and neat as a pin as it isn’t subjected to the usual influx of people and development.”
Marcus, who lives in Grabouw, instantly fell in love with the village when he visited his cousin Sandra Lemmer. By the end of 2017, a dilapidated cottage opposite the Dutch Reformed Church had caught his eye and got his architect's fingers itching. Marcus was drawn to its architecture, reminiscent of typical Karoo ‘brakdakhuise’ (flat mud-roofed houses).
But it would require a massive undertaking just to make it liveable, let alone restore it to the charming cottage it had once been almost a century ago.
A stunning revival
“The house had stood empty for many years, and no maintenance had been done,” says Marcus. “It had also been looted; all the windows and doors were gone. The roof was leaking so badly that the raw mud-brick walls were on the verge of collapsing in places. Not to mention that there was no electricity, water or sewerage.”
He and two friends, brothers Len and Herman Kruger, bought the house together in early 2018 and began renovating it in May the same year (see page 87). “We wanted to revive the house as quickly as possible,” says Marcus.
Unable to find a record of the home’s age, Marcus estimates that based on its locality opposite the church, it was built in the late 1800s or early 1900s. “It’s probably one of Vosburg’s first ‘nagmaalhuise’ because the town celebrated its centenary in 1995. It’s obvious from the building method, foundation and parapet (the low wall in front of the roof on the street side) that the house was built in three stages.”
Now, three years later, Marcus, Len and Herman regularly take turns to escape to Vosburg. Marcus still marvels at the incredible play of light and shadow in the kitchen and dining room on the north-facing side of the cottage – his two favourite spaces. “The light in this house has that magical Karoo quality. It was a pleasant surprise to see how it moves through the kitchen and dining room from early morning until sunset, complemented perfectly by the blue in this space.”
There’s just one problem: “When I go home to Grabouw, I immediately want to come back here!” says Marcus, now that the house on its quiet, dusty street has been restored to its former glory. It’s a picture of serenity – just as it would have been more or less a century ago when a Karoo farmer built this nagmaalhuisie that made no attempt to draw attention to itself.
A project guided by history
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