Volume 1 (Escape), Autumn 2021
Defined by the encounter between land and architecture, Caracal, the new property at Cabine du Cap, is a contemporary sanctuary in the tranquil Klein Karoo
Words by Meghan Ho-Tong Photography by Greg Cox Art direction & Styling by Charl Edwards Production & Styling by Storm Ross
Above Designed as a modern take on the classic cabin in the wild, Carcal’s contemporary geometry simultaneously blends in and stands out in the stark, scrubby Karoo landscape.
Standing alone in a tangle of unnamed dirt roads, surrounded by only mountains and orchards, I paused for a moment to gather my thoughts. My phone? Dead. Signal? None. I was definitely lost. And yet somehow in the magnificent vastness of the Klein Karoo landscape, my resolve and spirit of adventure seemed revived. I approached a group of women washing fruit at a nearby farm to ask for directions. They pointed to a distant pole with a red ribbon tied around it and waved me on as I retraced my steps. In these first few moments, I was given a glimpse of what this place is about: breathtaking vistas, a palpable sense of remoteness and the warmth of the handful of human connections you are lucky to make along the way.
Above There is a magic in the play between the heaviness of the stone platform and the lightness of the floating timber box above. Architects Migs + Drew worked with structural engineer Barend Oosthuizen of By Design. The building’s framed views are powerful revelations of the intimacies and vastness of the landscape.
Here in the Langeberg mountains, the land rises dramatically around you in a textural terrain of soil, rocks and bushes stretched over rolling, protruding monoliths. You have a strong feeling of your comparative smallness. The way a building touches this landscape is a significant moment that speaks as much about the resolution of structure and physical forces as it does about an understanding of place. When you consider this relationship at Caracal, the recent architectural addition at Cabine du Cap, two delightful and contrasting moments seem to exist simultaneously in the same building.
Caracal’s creators, Miguel Ferreira-da-Silva and Andrew Payne of Migs + Drew, conceived of this building as a contemporary reinvention of the classic cabin typology, aiming to blend traditional considerations like warmth, shelter and efficiency with modern comforts and adventurous design. At the heart of this project, and their ongoing partnership, is the pursuit of an architecture in harmony with its natural environment: ‘It’s a magnificent landscape. We felt the privilege and gravity of honouring and amplifying the experience of the site and a sense of the place,’ says Andrew.
Above In the softness and comfort of Caracal’s inner world, you feel sheltered from the harsh elements outside. Earthy hues and shades of the terrain have been carried through to the interior spaces reflected in the warm tones of its finishes and furnishings. A self-sustaining enclave, the farm uses a network of solar power and water purification systems.
Above The sleek black kitchen accents the cabin’s steel construction. The interiors are animated with details the owner’s love – a Chesterfield couch here, an old trunk there – and decorative elements that tell a story and make it feel like home.
Walking up the path towards the building, you are struck by the massive plinth established as its base. It appears to grow solidly from the ground with a desire to belong to the land. Its walls are stone, just like its surroundings. The solidity of this architectural element takes on a similar scale to the hill it grows from. It reminds me of a description by Danish architect Jørn Utzon, who once said that a great strength radiates from platforms: ‘The feeling under your feet is the same as the firmness you experience when standing on a large rock’. It’s evident, even to the untrained eye, that much of this modern retreat’s sense of sanctuary and shelter is tied to its composition with the platform.
Owners Sam and William Mellor first came across this beautiful and remote Klein Karoo farm by chance. They revelled in its wild expanse: ‘We would lug along pleasures like bush bar set-ups to enjoy in the open sunset, only to pack it all up at the end of every visit,’ laughs Sam. With each trip, Cabine du Cap grew to reflect their personal style and playfulness. The space slowly and incrementally developed into the established city-break sanctuary it is today, with comfort in details like
soft sheets, warm running water for the chilly winters, and ice-cold pools for the sweltering summer days. ‘We’re still buzzing with the dreams that lie ahead,’ William muses.
Moving further up the path, it’s only once your eyes begin to lift past the horizon of building and landscape that you understand your position overlooking a vast, mountainous valley. And it takes your breath away. A moment later, a light, timber box housing two bedrooms reveals itself, floating above the earth as complement to its heavier base. This structure touches the ground simply and lightly on just a few columns. Migs + Drew intended for this element to ‘permit nature and its rhythms to continue below’.
I was warmly guided through the site and its history by its caretaker, Joseph Mkochi, who previously worked with Sam and William in Cape Town and now oversees the farm’s operations. He explained the origins of the lone cabin as we walked along dirt roads etched into the topography by his own hands.
Looking back towards the building, it is easy to understand how it will weather and gain a patina with the passing of time. ‘We chose materials that would render the building more and more invisible in its surroundings with each passing year,’ explains Andrew. Siberian Larch – a type of wood specifically selected as a sustainably farmed and renewable resource – was used for the cabin construction. It has a beautiful grain and weathers to a silver-grey hue in harmony with its context.
Above The natural stone used for the walls was taken from the surroundings, grounding the architecture in the setting. Every room opens into an intimate and direct moment with nature. Below Cabine du Cap owners Will and Sam Mellor have a business called Malawi Cane, which facilitates the production and import of hand-made Malawian cane and rattan furniture.
Great care was taken to develop an architecture that responds in position, size, orientation, function and atmosphere to the site’s existing rock features, gradients, sun movements and natural beauty. ‘Most of the initial design process unfolded while on site,’ says Miguel. The upper timber suites, first joined, were later separated to make way for an existing vertical rock formation, creating a wonderful moment of drama where one moves between hard landscape and the comfort of the interior.
At the end of the day, I sit with my feet in the water and watch the sun dip down in gold, pink and purple halos around the mountains. As I quiet myself in the immense silence, I begin to awaken to the soothing sounds of insects and birds around me. Here, it is impossible not to feel part of nature, and the sheer enormity of that realisation is rather humbling.