07 December 2010 by Julienne du Toit

Hand-Made House

The little town of McGregor is situated in what the first settlers called the ‘warm bokkeveld’’. Summers in this Western Cape village are long and sweltering. In fact, the traditional building style in McGregor has the houses facing away from the sun.


The older houses here were built with unbaked brick, and have lasted for hundreds of years. They inspired Jill Hogan, a former horticulturist turned permaculturist and healer who moved to the town in 1997.

Her natural inclination was to work with natural forces rather than against them. “And I prefer to find all my resources around my back door.”

What more perfect building method then, than cob? Cob houses are built with a kneaded-together mixture of earth, water and straw. This is an ancient technology, used since Biblical times and before. It only fell into disuse when industrialisation and cheap transportation made bricks popular in the late 1800s.

The building of the house has been a voyage of discovery in more ways than she could have dreamt, and in building this house, Jill has created her future vocation - teacher of alternative building and energy principles.

“Actually, I used to be a potter once. This is the biggest pot I’ve ever built,” she laughs. Part of the appeal of cob is being able to literally sculpt it.

Its thick insulating walls make it cool in summer and warm in winter. “I haven’t even bought any building materials. The only ‘manufactured’ things are the car windows that I’ve recycled and fitted into the cobbed walls.”

Jill runs constant workshops on permaculture, alternative building methods, renewable energy and eco-friendly technologies.

I’ll be heading back soon to stay in their new, gorgeous cob-built Little Cottage. Can’t wait. (Check it out on link).

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