Wehrner and Annette Lemmer
WHERE A smallholding 16km outside Gqeberha
When Wehrner and Annette Lemmer returned to Gqeberha about 20 years ago, somewhat broke after their working holidays abroad, they were keen to move to Cape Town.
But the two nature-lovers soon realised that building a home-cum-studio in an indigenous forest would only be possible in Port Elizabeth.
At the end of 1998, they purchased a 2ha smallholding near Sardinia Bay Nature Reserve and in 2000 built a compact box-shaped house.
“We were forced to build the smallest house possible,” says Annette, a hairstylist and owner of Jigsaw hair salon.
Their living area upstairs covered a mere 40m2, while downstairs (where the lounge and kitchen are located today) was Wehrner’s 40m2 studio.
He’s a sculptor and has also been the owner of the popular Raak coffee shop – situated in the same Newton Park building as Annette’s salon – since May 2013.
“We planned to later build the house of our dreams on the property, but after five years we were totally in love with our little home and its view,” says Wehrner.
“It was precisely the view and the natural light afforded by the roof’s floating design (it rests on high windows) that made it bearable living in a tiny 40m2 space for almost five years.”
The designs on the front stoep were created with a steel stencil that Wehrner made. “One day, when Annette’s brother Werner Marx and I were hosing down the stoep with high-pressure sprayers, I noticed that the cement had turned almost white. I placed the stencils on the cement and we carried on spraying, and now we have this beautiful design.”
The most obvious solution to their space constraints was to build Wehrner a separate studio next to the house, and to convert his old studio into a living room and kitchen.
The couple really wanted to extend their space even more, but the concrete staircase connecting the two levels was unfortunately built on the outside of the house…
Architect Quinsley Sale of Kiü Architecture came up with a surprisingly simple solution: build on another ‘box’ around the concrete staircase.
And so 80m2 for a second bedroom, bathroom and lounge was added to make up the 160m2 home they have today.
“Now the staircase forms a focal point between the old and new sections of our home,” says Annette. Although the house is a mere 4km from Sardinia Bay as the crow flies, the Lemmers weren’t fazed about not having a sea view.
“We wanted a house that would be at one with nature,” explains Annette. “The best thing about it is the forest and tranquility around us.”
Wehrner agrees: “And the amazing birdlife and wildlife.”
A lifestyle choice
Annette and Wehrner are able to really nurture their creativity in their home. Wehrner works mainly with steel, stainless steel, brass and wood, which he sometimes combines with found objects from nature.
These days, however, he’s already at their coffee shop by six o’clock in the morning. “I no longer have as much time for major sculptures,” he says.
“My weekends are spent in my studio doing smaller sculptures and other crafts, and I make furniture and décor pieces to order – side tables, coffee tables and candleholders, as well as lamps made from brass and cement.”
You won’t find Annette at home in the early mornings, but out on her bicycle, enjoying nature. “We absolutely love spending time at home,” she says.
“It’s wonderful to eat breakfast outdoors and to potter around with our cats and dogs for company.
Despite owning a coffee shop, we still make our own meals; simple food with fresh ingredients is our thing.”
Décor and art
The couple’s décor is an interesting mix of modern and second-hand pieces. “We both really like grey, black and white.
The splashes of colour are new; it started about a year ago when I decided to ‘go bold or stay grey’ and painted the kitchen wall green,” explains Annette.
“And no, two huge dogs and four cats don’t influence our choices. We’ve learned to live with the consequences,” she laughs.
Each room has a striking focal wall with art by Wehrner or other local artists. “Some we bought and others we exchanged for Wehrner’s pieces.”
Gardening in the forest
The garden is a woodland paradise. “I’ve always loved gardening and I collect seeds wherever I go, which I then cultivate,” says Wehrner.
“I soon realised that few plants would do well here; there’s simply too little sunlight because of all the indigenous trees. In addition, the monkeys and other creatures such as bush pigs, porcupines and bushbuck create havoc.
“Then I received some clivias from a friend and was besotted with them after the first flowering season. Luckily, the monkeys and other wildlife leave them alone – another reason why I began planting them.
Every year, I plant more than a thousand clivias in every possible colour from the seeds I’ve collected. I then sell the new plants to friends.”
The Lemmers are passionate about their environment and the indigenous vegetation. “Although there are numerous white milkwood (Sideroxylon inerme) trees in our area, there wasn’t a single one on any of the 16 plots here,” recalls Wehrner.
“Apparently, the owner of the original farm chopped down these protected trees many years ago and sold them to a cement factory as firewood! I’ve now also started planting white milkwood.”