There’s a real sense of enchantment in this Assagay home, but look a little deeper and you will find it firmly rooted in the practical
Story by Hayley Dennyson; pictures by Adi Weerheim
This is a family home, bursting with character – a perfect reflection of Laurie Konigkramer, Rachel Chenery and their daughter Ruby. From the moment you enter the gate and make the ascent to their hilltop home, there is a sense of adventure to match the pioneer spirit that brought this long-held vision to life.
Laurie and Rachel grew up in the Assagay Valley and dreamed of owning land in the area. During a stint in the UK, the couple took out personal loans to buy an eight-acre plot back home which was, at that time, a tangle of exotic and invasive vegetation. That was the start of a 12-year project that saw them transform the property into their dream home. “It has been a labour of love, but it almost killed me,” says Laurie. “It really only came together in the past year and it’s still not finished.”
It took six months of hard manual labour for Laurie and one assistant to cut and burn the bush to gain access to the land. From there, they built a simple timber house, elevated on metal struts, like a pier extending from the hillside, and the home expanded from there. “We had to do it back-to-front, excavating the soil as we went along,” Laurie explains.
He hired skilled local tradesmen to assist with the work and learnt various techniques along the way. “The strategy was constantly evolving as we got to know the land.”
“We didn’t plan to have children and wanted to live in a big room on the hill, like hippies,” says Rachel with a wry smile. “Then Ruby came along and our home grew with her. Everything here has sentimental value and most of the artwork is by Laurie’s mom – Frances Konigkramer.” Rachel called in The Walker Girls (www.thewalkergirls.co.za) to help with the décor.
When they aren’t sculpting their piece of heaven, the pair run Lello Landscapes and Garden Rite estate maintenance, and have made their mark on hundreds of gardens across the Upper Highway area. So, when it came to their own space, they knew what they wanted to achieve.
Set amid exceptional KZN sandstone sourveld, the environment needs little manipulation to make it shine. While the cultivated garden is relatively small, it has been carefully shaped to provide interest and functionality. Laurie paid particular attention to its design, carving out different levels and garden “rooms”, using hard landscaping to give it structure. Arches, steps and paths make this a garden you want to explore.
There is an ideal spot for every person, animal and occasion, whether you’re looking for shade, sun or a bit of fun. Ruby’s trampoline and jungle gym are located on an elevated level, within earshot but out of view of the house, and her treasured fairy garden is tucked away in a nook near the pool. The family have five dogs, two cats, two pigs, chickens and guinea fowl – all of whom have been considered in the planning. This careful placement of different aspects works to great effect in managing noise and accessibility.
Laurie is a plants man at heart and has used a mix of indigenous and Mediterranean plants to give the garden colour and texture, while grouping species with similar water requirements together for easy maintenance. “Planting swathes of the same thing keeps the garden structured and avoids it looking like a fruit salad,” he says.
“It’s not often that you find the place you want to die when you’re in your twenties, but we did,” says Rachel. “You can’t beat the privacy and the quiet.”