19th cen­tury home for sale

Business Day - Home Front - - FRONT PAGE - Michelle Swart michelle@vel­vetsquare.co.za

Klippe Rivier, the his­toric Cape Dutch homestead de­scribed by Cosmo de Bos­dari in his clas­sic work “Cape Dutch Houses and Farms” as prob­a­bly the largest and most at­trac­tive of the Swellen­dam home­steads, has come on the mar­ket

KNOWN as the his­toric heart of the Over­berg, Swellen­dam is sit­u­ated half­way be­tween Cape Town and Ge­orge. Af­ter Cape Town and Stel­len­bosch, Swellen­dam is the third old­est set­tle­ment in SA. Founded by the Dutch East In­dia Com­pany in 1745, Swellen­dam lies at the foot of the beau­ti­ful Lange­berg Moun­tains and was named af­ter the gov­er­nor of the Cape and his wife, Hen­drik Swellen­grebel and He­lena Ten Damme. In time, a vil­lage was es­tab­lished op­po­site the Drostdy, across the Koorn­lands River, where ar­ti­sans, in­clud­ing nu­mer­ous wain­wrights, and traders set­tled. To trav­ellers and ex­plor­ers, the ser­vices of th­ese vil­lage folk were in­dis­pens­able, as Swellen­dam was the last out­post of civil­i­sa­tion on the east­ern fron­tier.

By the mid­dle of the 19th cen­tury, the east­ern dis­tricts had been colonised by Bri­tish set­tlers and Swellen­dam was thriv­ing.

It is in this town that is known for its young­ber­ries, his­toric ar­chi­tec­ture and as a great get­away des­ti­na­tion, that the guest house, Klippe Rivier, is sit­u­ated. The homestead is sit­u­ated at the south­ern end of the town, 2,2km off the R60 Swellen­dam-Ash­ton road, is a fine ex­am­ple of Cape Dutch ar­chi­tec­ture, was built around 1820 to 1825.

Cape Dutch ar­chi­tec­ture is a blend of el­e­ments of Euro­pean ar­chi­tec­ture that were pop­u­lar at the time that the Dutch East In­dia Com­pany ar­rived in the Cape in 1652, which were adapted to suit the lo­cal cli­mate and ter­rain.

The large rooms and the un­usual shapes of the home­steads are what make Cape Dutch home­steads so unique. It is said that the size of the rooms can be di­rectly re­lated to the tem­per­ate cli­mate; large rooms were cooler. It is also be­lieved that the early Dutch set­tlers were un­used to such large plots of land com­pared to Europe, and so made the most of the newly found space by build­ing large houses. Th­ese houses were con­structed in the form of a T-plan, Uplan or H-plan. Klippe Rivier is a clas­sic ex­am­ple of the H-plan.

The most im­pres­sive fea­ture of the Cape Dutch homestead is, un­doubt­edly, the or­na­men­tal gable. In the case of Klippe Rivier, the gable de­sign is at­trib­uted to LouisMichel Thibault, who stud­ied at the l’Acedemie Royale d’Ar­chi­tec­ture in Paris, and is con­sid­ered to be one of the fore­most ar­chi­tects in the Cape in the late 1700s.

The thatched Cape Dutch home­steads were de­signed to last, with walls built with lay­ered clay or clay bricks de­signed to keep the

The home has had a suc­ces­sion of own­ers, many of whom were well-known Cape per­son­al­i­ties

houses cool in sum­mer, and warm in win­ter. The floors in the Cape Dutch Home­steads were gen­er­ally of pol­ished wood, and Klippe Rivier re­tains the orig­i­nal yel­low­wood floor­ing and ceil­ings, which is quite unique. Ex­ter­nal doors were pan­elled in the best wood, as pan­elling was con­sid­ered to be a sign of wealth and splen­dour. In the case of Klippe Rivier, the high­est stan­dards were re­alised, and the homestead be­came the fam­ily home of past-Pres­i­dents Steyn and Reitz of the Free State Repub­lic.

The typ­i­cal out­houses for Cape Dutch home­steads were barns and stables, and in the case of Klippe Rivier, th­ese have been con­verted into six lux­ury guest suites, pre­serv­ing the am­bi­ence of a by­gone era. The cur­rent owner of Klippe Rivier, Liz West­byNunn, has per­son­ally dec­o­rated the in­te­ri­ors with her im­pres­sive col­lec­tion of Cape an­tiques, cou­pled with a fine se­lec­tion of paint­ings. The in­te­ri­ors have a def­i­nite “English coun­try house meets Africa” am­bi­ence which works beau­ti­fully with the ar­chi­tec­ture.

The home has had a suc­ces­sion of own­ers, many of whom were well-known Cape per­son­al­i­ties. From 1904 to 1914 it was owned by Al­fred John Baary, a mem­ber of the il­lus­tri­ous trad­ing and bank­ing fam­ily that served this area so well. Denys Reitz, au­thor of “Com­mand” and a cab­i­net min­is­ter in Smuts’ gov­er­nance carved his name on a win­dow frame in 1891 and Olive Schreiner, the nov­el­ist, was one of the fa­mous guests to stay there.

In 1990, the Westby-Nunns, founders of Port­fo­lio of Coun­try Places and re­lated hos­pi­tal­ity pub­li­ca­tions, bought the prop­erty and spent two years restor­ing and fur­nish­ing it with their eclec­tic col­lec­tion which has pieces from Cape Dutch, Vic­to­rian, Colo­nial and Art Deco pe­ri­ods. They then opened it as a guest­house and it very soon qual­i­fied for five stars.

Both the home and the gar­den, says Lan­ice Stew­ard, MD of Anne Porter Knight Frank who are han­dling the sale, are in pris­tine con­di­tion — and guests have al­ways, she says, tes­ti­fied that this coun­try house is among the most gra­cious and re­lax­ing of all the Cape’s best known ru­ral re­treats.

All the fur­ni­ture will be in­cluded in the sale. Price: R25m Con­tact: Anne Porter Knight Frank Lan­ice Stew­ard 021 671 9120

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