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A Tin House in Dullies

A Tin House in Dullies

Handcrafted on a hill in Dullstroom, Ann and Tony Cheatle’s lilac cottage is perfect for a family getaway

Words and pictures: Tess Paterson

Winding up the narrow dirt road is a bit like landing on the set of Little House on the Prairie. Except that the corrugated cladding’s a quirky shade of gently faded lavender. But then Ann and Tony Cheatle have never been a conventional pair. “We wanted a holiday home within a three-hour drive of Joburg,” explains Tony. “It was a retirement project for us, but a family project too. We spent ten years on the design and a year on the build. Everyone including the grandchildren knocked a nail in somewhere.”

Dullstroom-house-08

The construction is beautifully simple – a timber frame clad in iron, with interior walls of gypsum board. Pine floors were laid throughout, and the only bricks and mortar are in the pylon stilts supporting the house. “Our son Justin specialises in timber-frame houses,” says Tony. “The inspiration really came from the Pilgrim’s Rest structures – iron houses that could be stripped down, flat-packed and loaded onto an ox wagon.”

When it came to building, the Dullstroom weather – that temperamental mix of blue skies and wild, sudden storms – did not disappoint. “We dug the foundations in November and it poured for nine solid days,” says Ann with a laugh. “Two pick-axe handles were broken thanks to the suction of the mud; it was a fortnight of sheer hell.” The other challenge that saw tempers temporarily frayed was the corrugated iron. “As it’s rolled out you have to scrub it with a scouring pad and detergent,” she adds. “There’s not one piece of iron I didn’t wash, rustproof or paint.”

Tony and Ann Cheatle enjoy a moment on the quiet patio.

Tony and Ann Cheatle enjoy a moment on the quiet patio.


On the bright side, the Cheatle’s daughter Frith, who runs a hairdressing salon, would visit every few months “to cut hair and bring supplies,” says Ann. “Friends from home would bring down our fridge or stove in their bakkies and arrive with lunch. And there was always at least one of our nine grandchildren on the site. I looked out of the window one day and saw our son Sven up a ladder with three-month-old Eli in a papoose.”

View from the entrance to the open-plan dining area.

View from the entrance to the open-plan dining area.

To call this a handcrafted house is to understate things a little. It starts on the veranda, where the balustrade is decorated with Tony’s carved timber animals. But it’s once you’re inside that the full extent of the Cheatle’s creativity comes to light. Tony made almost all the timber furniture in his Springs workshop. The rest was cadged from their home, painted blue or red or green, embellished with delicate patterns, given a totally fresh persona.

Take the apple-green bench with a brightly coloured rooster motif, or the Cape Dutch doll’s house that Tony made for their granddaughter Penny. And something that makes my heart sing – a lipstick-red grandfather clock that he crafted with that quietly bohemian attention to detail. Unsurprisingly, Ann made the gorgeous quilts on the beds, rustled up the scatters from Sanderson offcuts and whipped up all the blinds. “It’s either just the two of us, or hordes of us. There are only two bedrooms, but about 15 have slept here over the holidays. We put down mattresses and stretchers and the lounge seating doubles up as beds. You’ve just got to watch where you walk.”

As country escapes go, this has to be one of the most welcoming, labour-intensive and much-loved homes around. “The real fun has been in all the finishing off – it was tremendously rewarding,” says Tony. “It’s somewhere to be yourself in,” adds Ann. “A cosy, feel-good sort of place where our extended family gets together.”

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