The Farm Kitchen Chronicles


with Lee de Wit

When Lee de Wit set his sights to find the perfect location for his family home, a farm in the Cradle of Humankind is what presented itself as the natural choice. Over the course of four years, this barn-like structure was transformed into a large kitchen, with an accompanying organic vegetable garden, and ultimately into a haven for the De Wit family.

Caught between a purely natural landscape and an artistic one – and, on top of that, set on the grounds of humanity’s earliest known origins – the original farmhouse, where Lee’s grandfather lived for a time, got him thinking. It wasn’t the kind of spot you could entirely return to nature. It wasn’t particularly beautiful, of any architectural merit, or historical value. Still, it didn’t make sense to demolish it for those reasons alone. ‘What do you do with that?’ What is now known as The Farm Kitchen is an attempt at solving this mystery.

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Sustained by the earth

In times when environmental impact is constantly on the brain, and building on such an intriguing site, Lee knew that wasting materials would not do. So, he set himself the challenge of reusing what was already there. Building on earth that has known the presence of humans for millions of years inevitably raises questions about our relationship with our environment. Lee’s response to this sensitive context was to re-create a dwelling that would embody a simple but profound notion: it is the earth that sustains us.

Familial foundations

While much of the land on the farm was being rehabilitated and returned to nature, the question of sustenance was still central. Lee was interested in what he could grow himself. The architectural answer he arrived at responded with fundamentals: a garden and a kitchen. Beyond practicality and sustainability, these elements carried personal associations, too. ‘My father taught me how to build a house,’ says Lee. He sees the words ‘food’ and ‘kitchen’ practically interchangeable with his mother, and his brother Wesley taught him about gardening, bringing the endeavour full circle with his upbringing.

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Sensory engagement

When you stand at the kitchen counter and cook, you look out over the vegetable garden with a conscious awareness of where the ingredients come from. For those not cooking, it’s ‘about the sensory engagement of watching people preparing food’. The giant granite boulders that bookend the kitchen counter, to the geologically literate, are an anomaly. The ground here is dolomite, not granite; the boulders don’t belong, but they are mementoes from the family’s previous farm and make for a heightened personal touch to this beloved space.

Although The Farm Kitchen responds well to the natural landscape, it fundamentally resists the urge to perch on it and take in a pristine view. As far as Lee is concerned, that would be a disservice to the real history of the land here. The view might be wonderful, but this non-folly is focussed elsewhere. ‘You’re coming here to use the garden,’ he says. ‘That remains key to contemplating our place here.’

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