The first talk of creating some kind of tourist destination on our property in Stutterheim, started in our cramped little 1 room flat in England. What started off as a wild idea then, quickly became possible when I arrived back home in South Africa. I found that Charles Claasen who I once worked for at a lodge in Knysna, had taken a job in Stutterheim. We got chatting and it wasn’t long before we decided that there should be a backpackers here…
The perfect spot was discovered where the forest created a large cove of grassland and the planning and preparation began. The grass was so high that it hung over our heads, so it had to be burnt to enable us to start the surveying. ‘Ample’ firebreaks were burnt and the fire was lit on a beautiful ‘hot’ autumn day. In minutes the entire 20 acre property was being devoured by flames, and briefly we stood frozen from shock as petrified amateurs do. We started our helpless attack when it became obvious that the fire had intentions of taking out the entire forest and neighboring farms. I am truly grateful to Francious Sparks and the forest department as well as Richard Pickering, who spotted the smoke and one by one appeared with fire trucks and put it out. It only then became apparent that we had burnt everything but the small piece we had intended to. As tempting as it was, I decided not to ask them if we could quickly re-lite the fire.
Deciding on the design of the buildings was one of the most frustrating and toughest parts of the project to date, perhaps perfectly balanced only by the glass bending procedure. We worked closely with Stratford architects for about 6 months before the final design emerged. Never before had I been faced with decision that so strongly influenced my future. I can say that 5 years ago when the decision was made, I had no idea what I was in for.
The design was so unlike standard timber buildings and posed so many problems that it took over a year to complete the shell of the first lodge. All the problems accompanied by the bending of timber was the first real obstacle we had to overcome. However, a harsh lesson on the values of bracing was thrown in before the weeks of bending wood began. The big A-frame structure over which the bent ribs are created, was just about complete, when someone removed a plank they thought would best be used elsewhere. The entire structure collapsed and left us hollow hearted… The A-frame was completed and ready for the thin blue gum poles which were to bend over it, giving the building its unique shape. The treated poles snapped so we cut fresh ones as they bend better, and they snapped the next weekend. But they were too thick – so we cut thinner ones. They snapped too. I now sport a phobia of bending anything, which has been severely tested since, with the curved glass.
My father, Hamish Scott, supplied the solution to the breaking problem. Laminating thin strips of wood together. This is a fascinating process and has in fact become an art. It worked really well and is now used for other parts of the buildings anatomy.
Once all the laminated ribs are in place, the wall planks are fastened over them in layers, moving upwards as you go. This was about the time when Charles left us and headed for the Karroo with his future wife. Once the walls are complete, the roof ribs (about 50 laminated bow shaped beams) are attached to them, giving the roof the curved shape and its asian-like appearance.
It was then time to start the interior work, which also took time because all the walls, cupboards etc. had to be profiled to the curved shape of walls. Even the tiling had to be done differently, using more cement in the middle so the whole tile was connected to the wall. There was a new lesson every day. I became an electrician, plumber and painter in the space of a few months.
As much as it was left in the darkest corner of our minds, there came a point where we could no longer avoid it, the dreaded glass bending experience had arrived. Rumor had it that our Architect had been showing off this incredible flexible glass product to some clients, and while demonstrating a bend it had exploded like a cars windscreen. With this in mind, we armed ourselves with gloves and goggles and prepared for this daunting task. The flat glass slotted into a groove in the bottom of the window and then it was up to us to use brut force to bend it into the shape of the walls. We started on the second chalet which had smaller windows, and it went surprisingly well. Managing to wedge the glass into position, we fastened it, stepped back and and admired this beautiful curved artwork. It was that final, elegant finishing touch we had been waiting for. Satisfied, we moved to the next chalet. We had just about got the glass bent into shape when, with a bang we were being showered by thousands of little pieces of glass. Hearts sank and we waited for another slightly thinner piece to arrive from Cape Town.
Once the glass was in, the shire’s were lockable, and it was time to introduce furniture. This is what brought about the idea of building eco-furniture. As alien vegetation is such a problem in Eastern Cape, I decided to use a product that was readily available and needed to be cut down anyway. The beds, bedside tables, suitcase stands, mirror frames and cupboards are all made of the Australian blue gum and black wattle.