Grand yet eclec­tic and filled to the brim with one-off dec­o­ra­tive finds, this glam­orous heritage home in Cape Town is a fun-filled space beloved by its own­ers.


– a colo­nial man­sion in Cape Town has a glam­orous makeover

“It’s very rock ’n’ roll,” says for­mer model Natalie Knight of the Cape Dutch colo­nial man­sion in Cape Town that she and hus­band James, a lawyer, and their young daugh­ters, Wil­low and Luella, call home. With a grand, im­pos­ing façade that is in stark con­trast to the Vic­to­rian and mid-cen­tury homes that sur­round it, the house is some­thing of a land­mark in Oran­jezicht, one of the city’s most sought-af­ter sub­urbs. “It’s by far the most flam­boy­ant house on our street,” laughs Natalie. “We quite like that.”

The fam­ily moved into the house in late 2015 af­ter nine months of ex­ten­sive ren­o­va­tions and re­dec­o­rat­ing. “It was a whirl­wind time,” ad­mits Natalie, who was so de­ter­mined that the fam­ily would have their first Christ­mas there, that they moved in on 20 De­cem­ber when some of the win­dows in the up­stairs pas­sage were still not in. “It was like an Ami­tyville Hor­ror, we were up to our eye­balls in boxes at the windi­est time of the year with no win­dows. So we had dec­o­ra­tions fly­ing all over the place and the girls kept ask­ing why the doors were open­ing by them­selves. But none of it mat­tered, we were in!” says Natalie with a laugh.

The cou­ple moved to Cape Town from Lon­don seven years ago when Wil­low was just a year old. “We were drawn to the idea of rais­ing a fam­ily in a place with a more laid­back life­style,” says Natalie, who grew up in Cape Town. “We rented at first as James com­mutes to Lon­don for work but when Luella ar­rived fours years later, we re­alised that we’d long made the city our base.” And so the search for a heritage home with a level gar­den be­gan in earnest.

Built in 1903 by an un­known ar­chi­tect, the Knights stum­bled upon their home when it was still a guest house known as Villa Bel­monte. “We loved it as soon as we clapped eyes on it but with 13 bed­rooms and 15 bath­rooms, it was to­tally ter­ri­fy­ing. We had no idea how turn it into a fam­ily home.”

They en­listed the ex­per­tise of Cape-based ar­chi­tect Jan Desseyn, who quickly got them to see the project as an achiev­able re­al­ity. For the Knights, Desseyn’s ex­pe­ri­ence with heritage build­ings was in­valu­able to the process. “He had a rel­a­tively sim­ple ap­proach, but it im­me­di­ately gave an air of so­bri­ety to the project and we could fi­nally see a way through it all.”

Sim­i­larly, when in­te­rior de­signer Danela Conti came on board, her abil­ity to cu­rate an eclec­tic col­lec­tion of fur­ni­ture, art and ob­jets re­ally came into play. “Her knowl­edge of fab­rics, fit­tings and fur­nish­ings helped to reel me in when I went off on a tan­gent,” says

Natalie. “And that was of­ten.” Strict heritage rules meant the cou­ple couldn’t do much to the build­ing struc­turally, bar re­move any new ad­di­tions that fell foul of the orig­i­nal ar­chi­tec­tural style. “Not that we had plans to change much, we all loved the build­ing so much that we tried to keep the in­ter­ven­tion to a min­i­mum,” says Desseyn. “But what we did was open up a lot of the re­ally boxy spa­ces that had been added over the years and gave the house open flow with a won­der­ful con­nec­tion to the gar­den.”

A case in the point is the now huge con­ser­va­tory win­dow in the break­fast room lead­ing off the kitchen, which re­placed a smaller gable win­dow in what was then a guest suite. “It’s re­mark­able how that one al­ter­ation changed the whole as­pect of the house to look out to­wards the gar­den and the moun­tain,” says Natalie.

An­other eureka mo­ment was when Conti came up with the idea to in­stall an ele­gant cus­tom-made gable win­dow in the cen­tral part of the kitchen that would bring in the clas­sic lines from the ex­ist­ing ar­chi­tec­tural style and cre­ate a sense of con­ti­nu­ity in the new kitchen de­sign. In­spired by a Louis Vuit­ton win­dow dis­play, gar­den de­signer Jeremy Kil­lian hung bird­cages at dif­fer­ent heights and filled them with plants or light bulbs, all of which are set against the back wall of ferns and green­ery painted by a lo­cal graf­fiti artist. A light well was also in­stalled to bring in more light. “It’s def­i­nitely one of my favourite ad­di­tions, as it’s a play­ful space that al­lows us to con­stantly change it, we dress it up for Christ­mas, Easter and for each of the girls’ birthdays,” says Natalie.

It’s this sense of play that is cen­tral to the in­te­rior di­rec­tion of the house, too. In fact, the Knights’ brief was one line: “Loosen the corset of this rather for­mal old lady and put some much-

Above left: bold pat­terned tiles on the kitchen floor. Above right: the master bed­room was de­signed to feel like an ele­gant ho­tel room, with De­signer’s Guild wall­pa­per and an over­scaled head­board to em­pha­sise the vast ceil­ing height. Be­low: white palm frond pat­terned tiles were used to cre­ate a wall feature in the master bath­room. needed colour and ex­cite­ment back into her life.” And that has been achieved with the great­est suc­cess as the grand space brims with char­ac­ter.

“Be­cause the house was such a big space, we had to get re­ally cre­ative with our fi­nances when it came to ac­ces­sories and so a lot of our things were sourced from auc­tion houses, sec­ond-hand shops and even pawn­shops,” says Natalie. “I would also source ideas off Pin­ter­est and and then Danela would clev­erly mix these finds with cus­tomised new pieces of fur­ni­ture.”

The bath­rooms were viewed as places of es­cape and the main en­suite bed­room was in­spired by the ho­tel bath­room of Natalie’s dreams. “We took our cue from the re­lief palm frond pat­tern tiles on the wall,” says Conti. “The scale of them made for a great wall feature.” The bath was placed cen­trally to give the room sym­me­try while the tim­ber van­i­ties were sil­ver-leafed and topped with mar­ble coun­ter­tops. Large blocks of White Swan mar­ble floor tiles give a feel­ing of lux­ury un­der­foot, while the em­pire line finials and an over­size French pane iron shower door add to the grandeur.

Sim­i­larly, in the guest suite, an open-plan de­sign meant the bath­room be­came one with the bed­room to al­low for max­i­mum en­joy­ment of the views. “Our in­spi­ra­tion was to have a bit of fun and give guests some­thing they or­di­nar­ily wouldn’t have at home,” says Conti. “So it’s a very glam­orous space with its snake­skin wall­pa­per and a ham­mered brass bath.”

As a re­sult the in­te­ri­ors don’t feel con­trived but rather a happy mix of ri­otous colour, graphic monochro­matic pat­tern and won­der­ful one-off dec­o­ra­tive finds. “While we specif­i­cally wanted a heritage house, it cer­tainly wasn’t our dream to live in a ver­sion of Down­ton Abbey,” says Natalie. “We re­ally wanted a home im­bued with hu­mour and an en­er­getic dy­namism that would be as much fun for us as for the girls.”

Left: Natalie and James stand next to a bar which, along with the back cup­boards, they had cus­tom-made by lo­cal kitchen de­signer Sven­craft. The cen­tral mir­ror was bought at a pawn­bro­ker and the pressed ceil­ing de­tail and cor­nic­ing is by Plas­ter Art. Be­low left: the bam­boo chi­nois­erie chairs in the break­fast room are from Re­sort Life­style. The cur­tain and blind fabric is by Black Fab­rics.

Above: the Art Deco metal doors in the en­trance hall were in­spired by a Parisian apart­ment Natalie spot­ted on Pin­ter­est and were cus­tom-made to re­place the pre­vi­ous walls and open up the space. The floors were stained black and painted white to cre­ate a strik­ing monochro­matic box. The light fit­ting is by Mor­gan As­so­ciates and the vases are from Ash­bey’s Gal­leries. Be­low left: the paint­ing in the stair­well is by Or­landa Broom.

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