Chapter One: The Farm
The story of this house – a century-old farmhouse in the valley of the Simonsberg Mountain in the lush winelands of the Western Cape in South Africa – asserts the owner, “is about a farm with an old soul that was resurrected, land that was brought back to life and the joy of living one’s dream.” Part of that dream was simply to have a place of their own in the astoundingly beautiful winelands around Stellenbosch where the owners studied together in the university town when they were younger.
The couple hoped to find something quiet, tranquil and with beautiful trees. Ironically, this house was overlooked because it was so unassuming and off the beaten path. But it turns out it was exactly what they’d hoped for: it had century-old trees and orchards, and the feeling that it could “wrap its arms around us and be a space where we would feel safe and secure.”
The main house dates to 1904, and it appears in local history books, where it is described as “a radical departure from the traditional architecture of the Cape country dwelling.” Today, with century-old vines climbing the pergolas over its moss-covered veranda, the house looks as settled as any traditional gabled Cape home. Outside, there is a genuine example of traditional Cape architecture: a barn dating to 1830.
While various kinds of fruit had been cultivated on the farm over the centuries (including grapes, of course), the owners discovered that it had once singlehandedly produced more plums than the rest of the valley put together. “We are not plum farmers, but we thought to ourselves, ‘we can make this work,’” asserts the owner.
So, they replanted the orchards with exciting new varietals and built up the farm to full production. It has been a long, difficult process, but the owner insists, “being involved in the noble process of growing food, with the only standard you live by to do good work,” is tremendously rewarding.
Chapter Two: The Farmhouse
Living up to its unconventional design, the house becomes a bold statement of individuality and personal taste expressed in humble, honest materials; renovated and decorated with the help of renowned interior designer Heidrun Diekmann.
Diekmann and the owners made very few alterations to the main house. New bathrooms were added and a guestroom outside was made accessible from the inside. The old main entrance was replaced by a bay window extension to the existing bathroom, which now captures views of the valley.
“The vision was to celebrate the existing patina and simplicity of farm life, and to restore the old bones with respect and honor,” she states.
The worn wooden floors were embraced. The pavers on the veranda (or stoep in Afrikaans) were “cracked and wonky,” but many were left alone, celebrating rather than disguising signs of age. Where the thick trunk of the old wisteria creeper cracked a column, it was left untouched. “If you were to fix that, you’d simply destroy the character,” opines Diekmann. Where the stoep was extended, the new clay bricks were treated with a mixture of manure, yogurt and moss so they’d blend with the originals.
When it comes to the furnishings, the materials Diekmann chose speak to farm life: metal, timber, leather, stone. Raw metal (oiled to prevent it from rusting) has been used for shadow lined dado rails, for example. The washstands in the bathrooms have flamed granite tops with hand chipped edges to celebrate the touch of the human hand.
“I prefer texture over pattern,” Diekmann shares. In fact, although the fabrics throughout the house are plain – linen, cotton, silk, worn leather and sisal – the variety of their textures and colors becomes a kind of pattern itself. “My preference is for textures with visual and tactile heft, balanced with the gauzy and transparent – like the curtains which filter daylight but still allow the outside in,” she states.
The colors in the house echo the green grasses in the garden and the sunburnt olive and grey of the African savanna. In some rooms, the large-scale prints of works by Dutch Masters on the walls seem to have breached their frames. The midnight blue, yellow and calico in Vermeer’s “Milkmaid,” are picked up in the dining room, and details from his “Young Woman with a Pearl Necklace,” echo in the buttery yellow silk curtains of the main bedroom.
The idiosyncratic collections that adorn tabletops and mantlepieces – memorabilia the owners accumulated over a lifetime – not only catch the eye, but also reveal a “passion for discovery.” Other finds, from feathers to flowers, express a bond with the farm and its landscape.
It’s a way of doing things that reflects Diekmann’s “preference for spaces that have clear and forceful identities, that captivate the senses and command and fulfill the eye.” It’s an approach that beautifully resolves the imperatives of creating a home with individuality and personality, while remaining respectful of history, nature and the life of the farm.
Chapter Three: The Barn
The barn, which is a traditional gabled Cape building dating back to 1830, was converted into an office with the help of Richard Perfect and Dylan Meyer of Perfect Tippett Architects. “The architects were a joy to work with,” express the owners. “A successful project is always a great collaboration between the owners, architects, designers and craftsmen who make it happen.” Although the foundations had to be rebuilt and the floors replaced, the original clay bricks of the walls were largely intact and could be restored. They were left exposed with all their signs of age and imperfections, juxtaposed with smooth screeded cement floors for a contact between the original and the contemporary that is sustained throughout. The textures are enriched with timber details and furnishing in natural materials and fabrics.
Photography by Elsa Young.
For more like this restored farmhouse, be sure to check out this historic home in Cape Town.
Like what you see? Get it first with a subscription to ASPIRE DESIGN AND HOME Magazine.