Remote lodging: a South African home in sync with nature and locally sourced

Home lodging interior
Openstudio Architects’ Swartberg House was constructed by local builders, using key materials such as roughcast lime-washed plaster, brick, ash and white ceramic tiles
(Image credit: Richard Davies)

Located near the Swartberg mountains on the edge of the Great Karoo desert in South Africa, this four-bedroom home, designed by Openstudio Architects, falls into step with its surroundings. Built using local materials, the sturdy lodging embraces the diversity of its environment and encourages its inhabitants to exist in harmony alongside nature.

Swartberg House can be found near Prince Albert, a picturesque town at the foot of the Swartberg Pass, a dry stone road built in the late 19th century. The owners of Swartberg House, publisher David Jenkins and Openstudio founder Jennifer Beningfield, wanted a home that was in tune with the changeable weather of the location and usable year-round, in order to fit its purpose as a holiday home.

A passive temperature regulating system specified in the brief largely dictated the design. Huge openings with sliding timber shutters were built into the main living spaces, positioned to interact with the sun. The shutters are a shield from heat in the summer and a sun-trap in the winter, warming up the dense brick floors.

It looks like villa plan

(Image credit: Richard Davies)

Take an interactive tour of Swartberg House

Maintaining the traditional styles of the area, Openstudio employed local builders and used techniques typical of Karoo architecture, including brick-on-edge floors, roughcast lime-washed plaster walls and the outdoor dry stone wall which encloses the pool.

Aligning the shape of Swartberg House to the undulating forms of the mountains, Openstudio created varying room heights within the two-storey plan. The highest space is the ground floor living room opened up for increased ventilation. Outdoor spaces have also been thoughtfully designed. The two upstairs bedrooms open up onto the roof terrace, where a fire circle and seating protects from direct sun and harsh winds.

The stoic building is sensitive and reactive to night and day, as well as seasonal shifts. Walls are scattered with thin windows to bring in shafts of light yet keep temperatures regulated, while at night LED lights concealed around the windows imitate the flow of daytime light into the house. This sensitive home is an intelligent response to both its location and the desires of the owners to co-exist with nature.

a good quality swimming pool

Built on the site of a former sheep farm, the house is created with traditional Karoo building techniques

(Image credit: Richard Davies)

Bars on the side wall

Huge openings with sliding timber shutters were positioned to interact with the sun, creating a passive temperature regulation system

(Image credit: Richard Davies)

Sofa kept to be seated

The living room has the highest ceiling in the house at 5.7m. Air circulates through the space from a high level vent with pivoting shutters

(Image credit: Richard Davies)

Staircase to go for first floor

The owners, publisher David Jenkins and Openstudio founder Jennifer Beningfield, conceived Swartberg House as a holiday home which they also occasionally rent out 

(Image credit: Richard Davies)

Bed arrangement in lodge

Thin windows with shutters scatter shafts of light through the house in the daytime. By night they illuminate the home via concealed LED strips

(Image credit: Richard Davies)

Rectangle and square type building

The surrounding landscape was integral to the shape of the home, with windows and terraces carefully placed to bring the experience of nature closer

(Image credit: Richard Davies)

A contemporary bathtub in lodging

The narrow, irregularly-spaced windows offer a sculptural quality and a visual contrast to the thick white plaster walls

(Image credit: Richard Davies)


For more information, visit the Openstudio Architects website

Harriet Thorpe is a writer, journalist and editor covering architecture, design and culture, with particular interest in sustainability, 20th-century architecture and community. After studying History of Art at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and Journalism at City University in London, she developed her interest in architecture working at Wallpaper* magazine and today contributes to Wallpaper*, The World of Interiors and Icon magazine, amongst other titles. She is author of The Sustainable City (2022, Hoxton Mini Press), a book about sustainable architecture in London, and the Modern Cambridge Map (2023, Blue Crow Media), a map of 20th-century architecture in Cambridge, the city where she grew up.