This op­u­lent Ed­war­dian home on Jo­han­nes­burg’s West­cliff Ridge has been the per­fect set­ting for the ro­man­tic, eclec­tic style of its vin­tage fashion con­nois­seur owner for more than three decades

Elle Decoration (South Africa) - - HOME JOHANNESBU­RG - Text GRA­HAM WOOD Styling SVEN ALBERDING Pho­to­graphs GREG COX/BUREAUX

One of the most un­al­tered Ed­war­dian Arts and Crafts homes on West­cliff Ridge in Jo­han­nes­burg, Stonecrest is named af­ter the carved crest on its brick façade. Set above two tall arched win­dows, the crest fea­tures a sleek hound at its cen­tre. ‘One early owner had 17 dogs,’ says Annabelle Des­fontaines, who’s lived here for the past 31 years. She has a few hounds her­self who look sim­i­lar to the one pic­tured, adding a sense of time­less­ness to the way she and her fam­ily in­habit Stonecrest – as if they’ve al­ways been here. Her beau­ti­fully eclec­tic style only adds to the ef­fect.

The house was built in 1902 and al­though it’s had al­ter­ations along the way – by Sir Her­bert Baker in 1911 and Cowin & El­lis in 1935 – it re­tains the spirit of its age. It’s a clas­si­cal colo­nial Arts and Crafts man­sion – part-coun­try pile, part-sub­ur­ban grande dame, part­cas­tle on a hill. From a plinth of lo­cal stone, the house rises with a broad layer of brick and a strip of stip­pled Ty­rolean, topped with a slate roof. Ter­raced gardens fall away so that the bed­rooms seem to be nes­tled among the tree­tops and the views carry the eye over the city.

Inside, it’s a maze of rooms. ‘There are four re­cep­tion rooms that lead into each other and all of them are gen­er­ously sized, with high ceil­ings,’ says Des­fontaines. There are mul­ti­ple lev­els, from the base­ment (now the TV room) and the study to the din­ing room and an up­stairs realm of bed­rooms, sun­rooms, at­tics and land­ings. Off the kitchen, there’s a ded­i­cated break­fast area and a wing that was once the but­ler’s suite.

These old Jo­han­nes­burg man­sions are of­ten ren­o­vated be­yond recog­ni­tion, with suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tions try­ing to ‘priss them up’, as Des­fontaines puts it. She did no such thing. What made her heart pound when she first laid eyes on the build­ing was the recog­ni­tion that Stonecrest’s orig­i­nal fea­tures and char­ac­ter were in­tact. Apart from adding the odd bath and shower, the struc­ture’s re­mained un­changed un­der her care. In fact, when she’s ended up sand­ing skirt­ings or door frames to add a fresh layer of paint, she’s stopped be­fore reach­ing the paint­ing phase, pre­fer­ring the way the sand­ing has re­vealed the lay­ers of his­tory and cel­e­brates ev­i­dence of the pas­sage of time.

As well as be­ing a fam­ily home, over the years Stonecrest’s served as a base for Des­fontaines’ vin­tage fashion store, Wizards Vin­tage, while one wing has been run as a B&B for some time. She’s held trunk shows here too and hosted oc­ca­sional events, but rather than make any per­ma­nent al­ter­ations, Des­fontaines’ ap­proach has been sim­ply to rein­vent the spa­ces from the inside. The base­ment could be a cel­lar, but its stone walls have been hung with ta­pes­tries and it serves as a TV room, ‘our hide­away space’.

Sim­i­larly, her ap­proach to fur­nish­ing has been loose and spon­ta­neous: there are highly or­nate carved de­signs and just as many ‘rough and sim­ple’ ser­vice­able fur­nish­ings. While some corners are crowded with de­tail, other spa­ces are open and un­adorned, yet lay­er­ing, tex­ture and patina re­main cen­tral to the over­all aes­thetic.

There’s some­thing quite mas­cu­line about the home, but at the same time, some­thing whim­si­cal and ro­man­tic. ‘There’s al­most a monas­tic som­bre­ness, yet it has depth,’ Des­fontaines says, which is the per­fect de­scrip­tion of Stonecrest as it stands now – as if it were made to be in­hab­ited in this way.

There’s a cen­tury of paint, life, en­ergy and peo­ple who have been through this house. It’s so won­der­ful – why would I paint it a flat colour?

this page The raised stoep of­fers mag­nif­i­cent views of the city. op­po­site (clock­wise, from top left) Des­fontaines’ vin­tage fashion store, Wizards Vin­tage, op­er­ates from sev­eral of the re­cep­tion rooms; while re­main­ing true to the abode’s his­toric aes­thetic, Stonecrest is in­fused with its owner’s eclec­tic per­sonal style; a bright sun­room is used for grow­ing suc­cu­lents.


Re­sist the urge to fully mod­ernise the home ‘I re­ally love the fea­tures of old houses and be­cause of that, I didn’t want to come into an old house and try to make it new.’

While main­te­nance is key, em­brace the im­per­fec­tions ‘For me, it’s not a case of try­ing to make it per­fect. It’s about keep­ing it in a good state of re­pair so that ev­ery­thing’s well looked af­ter, but not try­ing to do plas­tic surgery on it. One needs the im­per­fec­tions to show the his­tory, oth­er­wise it be­comes just an­other bland, per­fect house.’

Re­tain its au­then­tic­ity ‘In the din­ing room is the orig­i­nal wall­pa­per from when we moved in 31 years ago. Most of it’s still in per­fect con­di­tion and al­though there’s a bit of dam­age here and there, I love it. I think it’s beau­ti­ful and I wouldn’t like to have to change it.’

When mak­ing al­ter­ations, don’t try to com­pletely rein­vent the space ‘I make changes ap­pro­pri­ate for what’s hap­pen­ing at the time and in a par­tic­u­lar room.’

Marvel at its his­tory ‘There’s a cen­tury of paint, life, en­ergy and peo­ple who’ve been through this house. It’s so won­der­ful – why would I paint it a flat colour?’

I re­ally love the fea­tures of old houses and be­cause of that, I didn’t want to come into an old house and try to make it new

this page Stonecrest, Annabelle Des­fontaines’ grand fam­ily home, dates back to 1902. op­po­site Sur­rounded by ter­raced gardens and rest­ing on a stone plinth topped with lay­ers of clay brick, the build­ing’s clas­si­cal ex­te­rior re­veals its Arts and Crafts roots.

this page Sym­met­ri­cal, high-arched win­dows wash the din­ing room with nat­u­ral light. op­po­site A triple-vol­ume hall pan­elled in dark wood is fur­nished with a del­i­cately carved an­tique server.

this page Dou­ble doors lead into a high-vol­umed din­ing room with orig­i­nal wall­pa­per. op­po­site (clock­wise, from top left) Many of the ob­jetson dis­play were col­lected on Des­fontaines’ trips abroad; Art Deco tiles adorn the kitchen walls; in win­ter, Stonecrest’s in­te­ri­ors are warmed by 12 fire­places; a mixed ar­ray of col­lecta­bles cre­ates a sense of time­less­ness in the home.

this spread With its carved stone fire­place, deep-but­toned vel­vet fur­ni­ture , ex­pan­sive bay win­dows and si­mul­ta­ne­ous sense of for­mal­ity and com­fort, the spa­cious study is one of Des­fontaines’ favourite rooms.

this page A carved four-poster bed dom­i­nates the large mas­ter bed­room, which is warmed by Per­sian rugs and lay­ered fab­rics. op­po­site The ad­di­tion of the oc­ca­sional bath and shower, as in this guest bath­room, are among the few al­ter­ations Des­fontaines has made to the home.

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