A canvas for play
PHOTOS: Greg Cox | PRODUCTION: Etienne Hanekom | WORDS: Alma Viviers
It's not often that one gets the freedom to simply play but this is exactly what the renovation of an old farmhouse in the little Karoo offered Trevyn and Julian McGowan.
Far removed from its original urban setting in a narrow little street in London, the name Pear Tree has found a new, more appropriate application as the name of the McGowan family’s rustic retreat in Kruisrivier.
“Before we returned to South Africa we lived on Pear Tree Street,” explains Trevyn McGowan. “Ironically, it was a narrow urban street on the fringe of an industrial area – not a pear tree in sight. But selling that house enabled us to come back to South Africa and ultimately to also buy this farm.”
Just outside Calitzdorp on the Western Cape’s famed Route 62, is an unassuming gravel road turn-off to Kruisrivier. Nestled in a fertile valley at the foothills of the Swartberg, Pear Tree Farm overlooks a tapestry of tobacco plantations and olive groves.
The McGowans acquired the 77-hectare farm two years ago. “When we first saw the house it had dark, almost oxblood ceilings, navy walls and plenty of small rooms,” Trevyn explains. “But we could see the potential.”
Organic and spontaneous renovation
The renovation was an organic, spontaneous process for them. With builder Pieter Oosthuizen handling the nitty-gritty, the McGowans made in-the-moment, intuitive decisions – walls were knocked down to open up spaces, promoting better flow and allowing more natural light.
“Every trip to the farm was a voyage of discovery,” says Trevyn. “But we were never disappointed.” The most striking feature of the house is that it is all white: white walls, white roof, white floor, white interior and white furnishings. “It was actually quite an ugly house and when you start painting things like the roof a different colour, you highlight those features,” Julian explains.
“White is actually a logical colour choice. It is very forgiving and you don’t have to worry about matching up finishes like wooden floors.” The McGowans also decided to make do with what was at their disposal since the remote location made sourcing materials and supplies fairly difficult.
Reusing and recycling
“We didn’t want to waste anything, which is quite liberating,” says Trevyn. “You learn to live with certain things. This makes you less precious, which is extremely relaxing.”
So an old window frame found new life as a bookshelf, a coal stove was transformed into a quirky side table with a coat of white paint, windows were reused elsewhere in the house and even the old barn and stables were converted into a guesthouse and a house for Trevyn’s aunt, respectively.
Most of the furnishings in the house were either secondhand- shop finds updated with a coat of white paint and fittings from Anthropologie, or pieces the McGowans already owned or had inherited from Trevyn’s mom.
Almost nothing was brought brand-new and the decor has a rustic simplicity to it. A combination of ostrich-egg light fittings, the use of sheepskin and artworks featuring farm animals gives the home a pastoral feeling.
Artworks by Hylton Nel, William Kentridge, Clinton Friedman, Hanneke Benade and Michael Haigh also find pride of place against the walls. “Some of our favourite pieces are here because this is where we have time to appreciate them,” says Trevyn.
Although she loves the family’s Wilderness house, Trevyn feels that the seaside environment can be turbulent and challenging. While this is energising and great for work, making it the ideal location for the couple’s company, Source, she finds that she can truly relax in the Little Karoo.
“I love the heat and how beautifully still everything can be,” she says. “I think the heat mellows everything out. We try to spend every weekend here and most holidays. There is nothing better than arriving on a Friday evening, opening a bottle of wine and watching the moon rise over the valley.”
Julian agrees and adds that his favourite feature is the lack of telephones. They made a conscious decision not to have a telephone line installed and there is little cellphone reception.
“The kids are not allowed to bring PSPs or digital games,” he says. “We encourage them to paint, play and keep themselves busy instead. There was some resistance in the beginning but now they love it.”
The children, Zachary, Gabriel, Ruby and Jacob, have much more freedom here, as they have the run of the farm.
“They go down to the river or water furrow and race paper boats. The boys went crabbing yesterday and actually cooked what they caught,” says Trevyn, who has fond childhood memories of time spent on her aunt’s farm in Halfway House in Gauteng.“We’re planning to build tree houses and are working on the garden together,” she adds.
Discarded old farm implements given a coat of white paint and arranged along the garden wall have also turned into a family project and are now being finished off with Delft-inspired patterns.
In only a short time spent here, it is clear that Pear Tree Farm is a true retreat where children and parents alike have the space to express their creativity in the rural heart of the Little Karoo.
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