ES­TATE OF GRACE

What started as the hunt for a quaint farm­house turned into the dis­cov­ery of a crum­bling manor house in the free state — and its pas­sion­ate 15-year restora­tion into a home for mod­ern liv­ing

Condé Nast House & Garden - - DESIGN NOTES - TEXT JOSEF TALOTTA AND MICHELLE SNADDON PHO­TO­GRAPHS ELSA YOUNG/PER­FECT HIDE­AWAYS

the space is soft­ened by a rich colour scheme and fine pe­riod ar­chi­tec­tural de­tail

There’s a tan­gi­ble mad­ness that per­me­ates the story of Prynns­berg. But it’s more di­vine mad­ness, mad ge­nius per­haps – and one that at­tracts, rather than re­pels. In the foothills of the Ma­luti Moun­tains, Prynns­berg forms part of a string of gen­tle­man’s coun­try es­tates es­tab­lished for Bri­tish ex-ser­vice­men in the eastern Free state – few of them grander than Prynns­berg, the cen­tury-old home of Charles newberry, a car­pen­ter who im­mi­grated to south africa in 1864, be­fore mak­ing his way to Kim­ber­ley where he made his for­tune.

never one to waste time, Charles cashed out, fell in love with the daugh­ter of a Le­sotho mis­sion­ary and be­came en­am­oured with the nat­u­ral charms of the district. he soon set out to build an english-in­spired coun­try es­tate, com­plete with manor house, out­build­ings, two churches, game­keeper’s lodge, vicarage, sta­bles and work­ers’ hous­ing. The 20room sand­stone home­stead was smartly fur­nished by James shool­bred & Com­pany of London’s Tottenham Court road, with vir­tu­ally ev­ery­thing shipped in: a sprung floor for the ball­room, Per­sian car­pets, ivory bil­liard balls, silk wall­pa­pers, a grand piano, cook­books, cut­lery, mono­grammed crock­ery, royal doul­ton lava­to­ries, crys­tal chan­de­liers – right down to staff uni­forms.

The es­tate at­tracted fa­mous vis­i­tors, in­clud­ing a neigh­bour, the duke of West­min­ster, as well as Lord Mil­ner and rud­yard Ki­pling who, it’s al­leged, painted a noah’s ark frieze still vis­i­ble in the chil­dren’s nurs­ery. While many of the sur­round­ing farms were torched dur­ing the anglo-boer War, Prynns­berg re­mained un­scathed be­cause it was owned by an english fam­ily. It en­joyed a golden era through­out the early 1900s, be­fore slid­ing into grad­ual de­cline un­der the care of the dwin­dling newberry de­scen­dants.

once alive with the ca­coph­ony of gen­er­a­tions of a sin­gle fam­ily, Prynns­berg’s halls fell silent and the build­ings on the es­tate fell into dis­re­pair. That is, un­til along came its cur­rent own­ers, Jo­han­nes­burg cou­ple rick and sue Melvill, who were sim­ply look­ing for a ‘quaint sand­stone

Free state farm­house’ be­fore walk­ing into Prynns­berg. It was love at first sight: no fur­ni­ture but through­out a col­lec­tion of plas­tic buck­ets col­lect­ing rain­wa­ter. rick, gri­mac­ing at the mem­ory, claims there was ‘not even a bath plug’ and so they got to work restor­ing and fur­nish­ing it over the years with pe­riod pieces. But mod­ern liv­ing calls for mod­ern so­lu­tions. While the home­stead orig­i­nally of­fered 10 bed­rooms with three bath­rooms, not all of them were in­doors. By los­ing two bed­rooms and adding two con­ser­va­tory-style bath­rooms off the bed­rooms down­stairs, they were able to cre­ate eight bed­rooms with bath­rooms en suite, six of them with work­ing fire­places. and then there’s the phe­nom­e­nal folly of a Vic­to­rian bath­house with four baths, all in a row.

While its in­te­ri­ors are im­pres­sive, they’re not over­whelm­ing. The space is soft­ened by a rich colour scheme and fine ar­chi­tec­tural de­tail, in­clud­ing pressed-leather pan­elling, gilded cor­nices, stained-glass win­dows and or­nately tiled fire­places. Traces of ear­lier mad­ness still re­main though: the ad­vent of elec­tric­ity in the six­ties saw com­plete dis­re­gard for her­itage de­tail­ing. ‘Con­duits were in­stalled all over the place, flam­boy­antly showing off their new sta­tus,’ re­calls rick. Through its mod­erni­sa­tion, the many mys­ter­ies of the es­tate, such as the smoke that used to seep out from be­hind the sad­dles in the tack room, have been re­solved as sim­ply faulty wiring and struc­tural de­cay.

even though it may be a ‘new’ Prynns­berg, rick and sue have re­ally fo­cused on re­turn­ing it to its glory days. ‘We want to get the gin Palace back into the house. The place just sparkles with peo­ple in it,’ says rick, while pointing to the hand-painted frieze in the bil­liard room that bears tes­ta­ment to its de­fi­ant spirit: ‘away dull care: to­day we will be merry!’ For rental, con­tact Per­fect n Hide­aways 8 per­fec­thide­aways.co.za

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