WORDS Tracy Greenwood PRODUCTION Sumien Brink IMAGES Micky Hoyle
The little white cottage that Megan and Casper Geldenhuys built in Onrus 30 years ago speaks of precious times with family and friends, a life lived close to nature and a deep respect for the setting.
The little white cottage is perched as though airlifted there on the shores of Onrus Lagoon. At first glance it is an unremarkable clapboard structure. Sitting off-kilter on a large stand, it is rectangular, made entirely of timber painted white from top to toe both outside and inside, and has big windows – not a burglar bar or ostentatious element in sight.
Step inside and the layout is simple: open-plan linear kitchen to the right, lounge on the left, these areas separated by a sizeable dining table and chairs. Up a corridor there’s a single bathroom and two airy bedrooms, the master affording views over the fynbos garden and lagoon. This simplicity is kind of the point of it all, I realise after spending about an hour in conversation with the homeowners, who created this tranquil space from scratch some 30 years ago on a stand Megan’s mother had left her.
“I am the White House and the White House is me,” says Megan. She positioned the house to catch the perfect light and determined that everything would be white. She tells the story of the builder proudly showing her how he had chosen the finest knotty pine strips for a wall. “Knotty pine is so very, very ‘naughty pine’ for me, so, paint them white,’ I said. “I suppose you want the floors white too?” “Yes!” He couldn’t believe it.’ It was Casper who laboured endlessly, removing many aliens so bietou, Cape may and other fynbos could come into their own, and heaving one boulder at a time to carve out a sandy shale and shell-studded driveway out of the scrub.
At the bottom of a path leading from the deck to the water’s edge through thick vegetation is the Lagoon Saloon, a roughly hewn pub and braai area where countless glasses of wine and bubbly have been raised – and will continue to be raised – in celebration and where young and old spend hours cavorting in the lagoon and on the beach. The simplicity of life here in Onrus, where they have lived full time since 1997, has changed Megan and Casper, who had been accustomed to the city’s hustle and bustle.
It has made them more aware of the beauty of an uncluttered existence surrounded by nature. “Material possessions no longer mean very much to us,” says Megan. “My memories are my most treasured possessions; visions and thoughts in my mind’s eye of the wonderful happy times we’ve had here at the White House. Those are what will remain long after we’ve moved away.” There are, of course, certain exceptions, such as their collection of records (vinyl, for the sake of the millennials), photos and a few sentimental items, like the yellowwood cupboard Megan inherited from her grandmother.
For lovers of nature, life here in the White House is never boring. Nor is it lonely. Megan and Casper share their property with birds and tortoises; the odd mongoose is often spotted skulking along the shoreline in the gloaming; and then there’s the large-spotted genet that is, says Casper, bold enough to try to snatch a chop off the braai-grid or your plate.
As if to prove the point that four-legged creatures are welcome here, it’s at this juncture in the conversation that a black-and-white collie cross with blue eyes and beach-muddied paws trots in through the French doors to make himself at home. Megan and Casper have never seen the dog before but, we all agree, he’s chosen a great spot for a bit of a kuier.