“The addition of Stanford pillars to a simple country home would have happened in the 1920s to denote that the building was for official use,” notes homeowner Cobus van Niekerk. The spheres perched in the pair of urns are old metal insets from wine barrels which van Niekerk had made.A sizeable collection of kitchen tools and serving ware is on display in the original workbench. van Niekerk is a consummate entertainer of parties from 2 to 120. The old lampshades were salvaged from a church and the large bureau is filled with platters used when entertaining.On walking into the home, one is greeted by a reception area with a Georgian mahogany table coupled with fiberglass chairs which van Niekerk sits at everyday to sketch designs and hatch new plans. “I love mixing modernist finds with serious antiques,” he quips. The magnificent bureau houses some of van Niekerk’s current obsessions – a collection of urns inside, and old salt glazed pots once used for food storage above. “It came from the Spanish embassy and I paid far too much for it, but I was very young and I didn’t realize there were people planted in the audience at the auction to push the price up; I had to have it and ended up having to take a sizeable loan to pay for it,” he laughs.
As an avid collector and a purveyor of décor and furniture, it’s only natural that Cobus van Niekerk becomes attached to some of the wonderful discoveries he finds at auctions or by chance in exotic locales. But for the most part, once he’s had his fill of enjoyment, he’s happy to pass on his finds to his customers who visit his iconic antiques and collectibles shop, based at his home in Stanford, a charming village in the Overberg. “I like to ‘play’ with the items I find, mix them up and move them around. I’m not a snob or a purist when it comes to putting a Regency piece with 60s chairs. In fact, that’s what I love to do. And once I’m ready to move on, then that’s it, goodbye,” van Niekerk laughs. Of course, he’s attached to some key furniture items that he’s had for many years – and a current obsession with urns of all shapes, sizes and materials doesn’t look set to abate anytime soon, but precious he is not.
Like van Niekerk’s many and varied aesthetic interests and passions, so his home in Stanford, some two hours from Cape Town, has had numerous incarnations. While original deeds and plans to this historical dwelling have proven impossible to uncover, he estimates that it was built in the late 1700s, which in South African terms really is very old. “I have a feeling that it was the original manor house for the village; it’s much older than the other houses here,” notes van Niekerk, who explains that it has been everything from a post office in the 1920s to the local telephone exchange (now his bedroom) and even a small library. “A truck would come up from Cape Town every month with new novels for the book-starved residents,” he adds.Looking from the kitchen out towards the sun-splashed courtyard. The kitchen, which plays host to an old workbench with a reclaimed marble top, pays homage to the past beautifully.van Niekerk had the original Regency era chairs recovered in leather. The gleaming rosewood card table dominates the dramatic sitting room. “I wanted to create a clubby atmosphere. I’m not the type to go to the local pub for a drink, but I’m more than happy to host drinks here,” he laughs. The convex mirror above the mantelpiece helps enhance the theatrical nature of this room. The Victorian marble clock is in working order and is a partner in a play with various quirky finds.A collector’s eye is apparent in van Niekerk’s collection of white tableware which contrasts beautifully against the black walls. The painting is by his school art teacher Nina de Wet.While he was a student, van Niekerk made this beautiful sculpture — currently enjoying its incarnation as a fallen angel in his shop.
van Niekerk has lived in Stanford for 20 years. Originally, he intended to use his historical escape as a weekend home, but gradually the allure of village life proved too strong and he moved here permanently. “Growing up in the sixties, we always lived in modern homes, yet as an adult, I longed for an old space, I suppose because it reminded me of happy times spent with my grandparents at their Karoo home,” he explains. On entering the home from the street, an entrance hall-come-reception room awaits, with van Niekerk’s shop peeling off to the right and his living space to the left. “The house is the shape of an upside-down T, with the cross-section on the street side and the long, vertical arm, running away from the street. This means that each of the living spaces, from the reception room to sitting room, dining room and kitchen lead off from one another,” van Niekerk continues. This unusual design is typical of older houses and works perfectly for van Niekerk, who has decorated his space to unfold a series of visual delights as you delve further into his home. Adding to the sense of visual theater is van Niekerk’s daring use of color. “When I first bought the place, I painted everything all white. The builders were horrified that I was wrecking valuable yellowwood and Oregon pine, but more recently I decided to go with black walls and I love it,” he smiles. It’s no surprise he’s so enamored with his moody paint choice. Rather than make his home seem gloomy, it brings a sense of drama to the equation and his gleaming antiques and carefully curated collections literally pop against their dramatic backdrop.van Niekerk’s studio and shop play host to some of his urns and a painting done by him.van Niekerk’s Irish Terrier, Seun (a boy), makes himself comfortable.The van Niekerk’s covered stoep, or veranda, looks onto the street and is a showcase of bold ability to marry different styles confidently. The Italian style harlequin tiles were added when he moved in, and the overhead steel lantern is his own design.
The entrance reception area is dominated by a magnificent, polished Georgian-era table and high-gloss fiberglass chairs. It’s here that van Niekerk spends much of his time scribbling ideas on pieces of paper and hatching his creative and travel plans. From here, visitors are drawn into a sitting room with doorways framed by rather theatrical drapes on either side of an imposing fireplace leading into the dining room and beyond that to the kitchen. Still farther into the home is van Niekerk’s rather more ascetic bedroom, a far less decorated space compared to the rest of the house – intentionally so, he says.
As a direct juxtaposition to the moody, black painted interiors, van Niekerk’s studio and shop are white painted, light-splashed spaces. It’s here that this consummate collector’s eclectic and ever-changing cornucopia of quirky finds, prized fossils and his own-designed decorative objects are on display and for sale. “I studied art and the history of art so I know my antiques, but I really am not too precious about what I buy, decorate with and sell,” van Niekerk confesses. It seems his unique approach and eye works because he turns stock at a rate of knots. van Niekerk’s shop used to be a prominent fixture on Stanford’s main road, Queen Victoria Street. Now that he’s moved it into his home and knowing his penchant for change and creating visual theater, there’s no doubt his home will draw locals and visitors alike.
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