Mud, Stone, Tadelakt, and Horses
A Tour Around Sophie and Hakan’s World
Ah the road, and the places it takes you. What a pleasant time I’ve had on my rumbling, bumbling journey back to Spain! En route, I decided to call in on a couple of muddy old friends who (like me) moved from Turkey to northern Spain last year, and (unlike me) drove the distance with their four horses, two dogs and a cat!
Sophie and Hakan are natural building veterans. Back in Turkey they built a gorgeous straw bale house high on a remote mountain. Here in Spain they are forging a new haven from mud, stones and lime. Seeing the progress they’ve made in the past year certainly squeezed the motivation out of my bones, and generated a million and one ideas about what I could do with my own space. So let me share the inspiration and show you around their magical, burgeoning world.
Sophie is incredibly creative with mud and lime-based plasters, while Hakan is the hammer and nails guy. And then there are the horses, who always add a bit of extra mischief and challenge to the project, and generally prevent life from turning a tired shade of beige.
When I first visited Sophie and Hakan a year ago, their partly restored main cabana was a windowless cave, chilly and dark. Since then Sophie has designed beautiful windows with seated ledges that have transformed the living space, creating a vibe that hovers between glasshouse and church. I love the way people use light in houses. Here it’s an interesting combination of outward and inward looking.
Sophie is very picky about her kitchen too. “I hate cooking against a wall!” She says, showing me her hob which is placed facing into the room so that you can cook from either side. Hob placement is worth considering for another reason too, namely heat dispersion. Having the cooker occupying a more central position actually helps heat the room (should you want that. If you live in a hot climate, you’ll be looking to do the opposite).
The latest project up at the horse haven involves redecorating one of the extra cabanas and turning it into a guest house. Sophie has utilised a host of different techniques in it. She’s sculpted earthen plaster to parts of the walls, created some beautiful limecrete window sills, not to mention the tadelakt sinks. Tadelakt is an ancient Moroccan lime plaster technique, where lime plaster is rubbed and smoothed with olive oil soap to create a water tight finish. As you can see from Sophie’s Dali-esque sinktop creation, there are no limits to the shapes you can mould from tadelakt. And she explains more about how she did this in this video.
But of all the mud and lime creations in that cabana, my favourite feature in the whole shack has got to be the wattle and daub banister.
“Oh I just wired some sticks together and then wove ferns in and out. The ferns weren’t even dry! Then I plastered it, and worked the plaster with a stone, like tadelakt. It worked out great!”
It certainly did. That wattle and daub banister is as solid as concrete, and has spawned even more outlandish ideas. The next project is to create more wattle and daub structures around the banister, sort of earthen bubbles, to create a bathroom.
But for me, what is really special about Sophie and Hakan’s world is their ability not just to construct a dwelling, not just to experiment with natural building techniques either, but to co-create a magical haven where animals, plants and humans coexist and relate in the most amazing ways. It’s the simplest of lives in fact, but lived with such panache and vision that it becomes something truly special. Something to aspire to.
When Sophie isn’t mud building, she’s horse whispering. And if you want to see more of her quite arresting adventures (and evocative photos) with her horses, you should check out her FB profile. I dare you not to be moved. When Hakan isn’t banging bits of wood together, he’s cycling. A lot. And when it’s too wet for bikes, he makes beer and cheese. Damn good cheese it is too (Note to self: must taste the beer next time!)
The more I live and see, the more certain I become. Complexity and over-sophistication are human curses for so many reasons. The greatest pleasures in life are the simplest (and subtlest) ones. They nearly always cost nothing more than the effort of valuing them in a world where they are largely dismissed. Yes you need a piece of land. Yes you need an imagination and the drive to do something with it. But in truth you don’t need too much more than that.
On my last morning at the horse haven, a damp cloak of cloud had draped itself about around the mountains. Sophie, Hakan and I hiked up the hill to their cow-owning neighbours. There outside the house stood a large canister of fresh milk. Hakan filled two five-litre jars and stuffed them into his backpack before paying the neighbour. Off we trudged, dogs in tow, back to the stone cabanas.
Later that afternoon Hakan became quite animated as he showed me how to make five products from these same ten litres of milk: Halloumi, Ricotta, Yoghurt, Feta and Whey. Now I freely admit I tend to lose interest when it comes to the kitchen, but even I was enthralled.
“I’m thinking of running some cheese-making courses,” he said. “Folk could stay in our new cabana.”
Yes. And I’m guessing there’ll be a few takers for that. Mud, stone, horses and cheese. What more could you want?
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