A stroll passed an old building on a golf course

I’ve always had a fear of hospitals, clinics, and doctor’s rooms.

Strangely enough, so has Rav but our fears were slightly different. While I feared the smell, the flickering lights, and the hushed murmurs in long hallways, Rav – as a Functional Medicine doctor – feared the “one-size-fits-all” and hurried approach to healing. And so, about 20 years ago, we made a pact that one day we would create a space of healing and wellness that felt like home.

That dream really started to become something one day in 2017 as Rav and I (with two toddlers asleep in their strollers) walked the same route that we did every day in our community on the White River Country Estate. Making our way down the first hole of the golf course, the old White River Golf Lodge peered at us through the tall evergreens on the left of the fairway and we both verbalised the same thought:

“It’s big enough to be a place of healing and small enough to still feel like home.”

I am so proud to share with you what this home among the trees in White River looks and feels like today, seven years after that golf course stroll:

The Jack Russel that caught the double decker

In 2017 it was just a thought, but in 2020 the stars aligned as they say and we were handed the keys to the old White River Golf Lodge in January 2021. But we were in the middle of a historic pandemic and – a little shell-shocked at what we had just done – we were unsure of where or how to start. A good friend and mentor of ours described is as “the Jack Russell that caught the double-decker” bus. We’d been so caught up in the chase that we hadn’t considered what it would feel like once we actually got hold of the dream.

December 2020: Me, Rav and the kids come for our first swim in what would soon become Hanya House

What followed was 18 months of planning and investigation in the old Golf Lodge conference room and, in July 2022, after a number of setbacks, challenges, hard conversations, and about turns, we were ready to create a healing home of wellness that was based on a collaboration of like-minded health professionals.

How are HANYA healers like-minded?

The “like-minded” has emerged as a group of people who believe fervently in whole-body, whole-system healing across multiple disciplines. These are people who believe in science and heart, mind and spirit. They believe in the absolute necessity of exploring the interconnectedness of systems (biological, spiritual, familial, community-based, ecological, to name a few) in order to heal and thrive. Most importantly, like Rav and I, they believe in creating a space of peace, presence, and support. A space where people greet each other, smile, laugh, cry together, and break bread together. Those who know the healers who work under the Hanya House roof will appreciate how Rav and I feel deeply grateful to work alongside such special humans. And far beyond anything material it is this family’s spirit that makes a home.

And why did we name it Hanya House?

It was the beautiful (in every way) Bronwyn Varty-Laburn and her team of creatives at Londolozi who helped us arrive at the name Hanya House. Hanya is a Shangaan word that means “alive” and how privileged Rav and I are to be part of a collaboration of independent health professionals who are so alive in their approach to healing and who constantly nurture a sense of aliveness.

Grand Designs: Getting HANYA 2.0 up and running in four months

When we thought it was a good time to emerge from the pandemic and we had settled on a plan and budget, Rav and I would have one month to plan and three months to renovate if we wanted to open doors to a new Hanya House Wellness Collaboration in January 2023.

We absolutely had to be ready by January because, somehow, we had convinced Psychologist, Lindsey Hyson, and Life Coach, Denise Sohandev, to be the first healers to join the collaboration and we had promised a January move-in date. I wanted to acknowledge Lindsey and Denise here because in front of them was an old building with flaking yellow walls, a leaky roof and a very old-fashioned conference room that was earmarked to become a yoga studio. And yet Lindsey and Denise could see beyond the old towards the immense potential that Rav and I could see. (As an aside, Lindsey’s roof is an enigma to all of us and still leaks despite our best efforts… we have taken it as a sign that the building likes to help us emotionally “release” from time to time).

The old Golf Lodge was dated, in need of extensive maintenance, and – while the bones were excellent – this was a big building that needed a lot of love and attention. We had been delayed through the pandemic and its aftermath and we had the added complication that we had already moved Rav’s practice into the building and so patient care needed to continue in among all the chaos. This was a trying time for us, but I like to joke that:

  1. We were young and stupid (as Rav’s late father used to affectionately say); and
  2. All my binge-watching of Grand Designs finally paid off

A little help from some design stalwarts

Much more than Grand Designs, over the years I had soaked up some creative wisdom from three stalwarts of interior design and architecture: Shan Varty of Londolozi Private Game Reserve, Yvonne O’Brien of The Private House Company, and Petrus Maree of Petrus Maree Design. Below is the original mood board that we had created for Hanya House with Yvonne in 2021. In the three months leading up to Christmas 2022, as I reviewed catalogues and budgets and scoured homeware shops for bargains, I would continually hold up ideas against this mood board. In my mind I would hear Shan and Yvonne whispering the word “restraint” and Petrus giving me a reassuring nudge: “Trust yourself.” I also had a secret weapon: Silvi, my extremely creative mother-in-law. You’ll know what I mean when I say that I think I got the basics in place, but it was an antique coat-hanger or an ornate clock strategically selected and placed by Silvi that really brought a space together.

Above: Petrus Maree, Shan Varty, Ryan & Yvonne O’Brien in the old Dining Room in 2021. Even though this original team parted ways in 2022, Shan, Yvonne & Petrus left me with so many rich ideas to work with

A mood-board that I visited time and time again

Our community has been so supportive of this project. From the White River Country Estate Board and home-owners to the White River Country Club and countless individuals who have offered their experience and wisdom.

Ryan James

Pub, kitchen, health shop, Remedy Bar & Thabo Mbeki

Apart from the Living Room and the Treehouse Studio, one of my favourite places to create was The Remedy Bar. I collected a couple of Pinterest photos, made a rough drawing, and then Yon and Ofri, my brothers-in-law, created a to-spec digital rendition that I could hand over to a carpenter and builder. Nobody could quite understand why I took so long harping on about The Remedy Bar but for me, the heart of a home is the kitchen. And also, because my heritage is British, I love the warm conviviality of a village pub. I wanted our guests to be able to pull up a chair at the bar counter in The Remedy Bar for a tea or coffee and to feel warm and cosy. I wanted it to be a place of gathering and learning. I’m so thankful that Yon and Ofri persevered and could see what I could. I’m also thankful that they helped us to instal “Simonelli” who is our very stunning red espresso machine.

Lindsey & Brian Hyson with me and Rav in The Remedy Bar

For interest, The Remedy Bar used to be the dining room in the old Golf Lodge and it was the original home of Oliver’s Restaurant. Tanja Ruff sent in the photo below from many moons ago. In fact Lindsey Hyson, our resident Psychologist, can remember ringing in the new century in the swimming pool of the old Golf Lodge.

The original Olivers restaurant was set in the old Golf Lodge Dining Room which is now The Remedy Bar

Another lesser-known fact that we *chortle* about is that Dr. Allison’s consulting room used to be the actual bar. And previous South African president, Thabo Mbeki, sipped on a few choice single malts in that bar. I love that this building comes with history like this. It is alive with many stories and many more are still to be told.  

Dismantling the old bar and then…
…turning the old bar into Dr. Alli’s new consultation (and snuggle) room

Making new memories

Needless to say we made our January 2023 renovation deadline and our new Hanya House Wellness Collaboration has been open for just over a year. We now have 8 full-time and 15 part-time health professionals working under the HANYA roof. There is a Treehouse studio, a Living Room and Dining Room, and a Boutique Health Shop and Demonstration Kitchen in The Remedy Bar. We have collaborated with Bloom Nursery to bring the inside of the building alive and overflowing with green and we have also collaborated with Dana MacFarlane of the White River Gallery to thoughtfully curate a creative experience that speaks to the philosophy of “the art of living” (I’ll be chatting more about our collaboration with the White River Gallery over the next few weeks).

Dana MacFarlane and her late husband, Bruce, have injected love, energy, creativity and soul into Hanya House. This was the original Karin Daymond installed at the bottom of the staircase.

As I think back over the last year my memories are filled with laughs and smiles. Lindsey giggling her way down the stairs with a client. Dr. Allison laughing as Gaia and Paulie slide across the Living Room and knock over another plant. I think about countless meaningful conversations at The Remedy Bar. I think about Hanya Lunch Club and gathering around the dining room table, breaking bread with people from around the world. I think about people trotting up the stairs with their yoga mats ready for Denise and Farrah to meet them. I think about Rav and Dana embracing in tears as they remember Bruce MacFarlane’s part in the creation of Hanya House. Erin offering round version three of her beetroot date balls or getting excited about the latest magnesium supplement to arrive. Tina’s 80’s music and her ladies channeling Jane Fonda in leggings and stilettos. Verena’s house music on the patio. The sound of BeJay’s conch blasting out the old conference room’s windows. The sounds of healing. The sounds of community. The sounds of life.

It was Ty James and Farrah Cruse who made the video at the top of this blog. I am thankful that they so sensitively captured a sense and feeling of this home of healing. We never found the right time to release the video in 2023 and so much has happened since with many new wonderful humans joining.

Making magic with Ty & Farrah

While change is inevitable, the constant for Rav, myself and the truly amazing healers we share this space with is our commitment to the word “home”. Wherever you are on your healing journey, may you know that Hanya House and its family is committed to nurturing a space for you that is safe, peaceful, fun, and all about community.

Ryan, x 🦩