Heart still in these remarkable HOMES
A meticulously crafted book of some of SA’s most picturesque and storied heritage houses, writes Shingai Darangwa
‘FROM a grand sandstone mansion rescued from dilapidation in the scrubby Free State veld to a romantic arts and crafts-style double-storey that presides over a sizeable piece of prime real estate in the high Berea suburb of Durban, Remarkable Heritage Houses of South Africa provide a privileged glimpse inside 20 of the country’s most distinguished, remarkable and treasured private residences.”
This excerpt on the beautifully layered Remarkable Heritage Houses of South Africa perfectly summarises what this brilliantly put-together book is all about.
Not only does it unpack the story behind 20 of the most storied and breathtaking heritage houses in the country, it also gives you a feel of the energy and air that makes each of them so unique.
“Having been always intrigued by architecture, interiors and the landscapes in which they preside, I jumped at the chance to research possible material for a book on houses, when suggested by Craig Fraser and Libby Doyle of Quivertree Publications,” says Nini Bairnsfather Cloete, the book’s author, when asked about the process of establishing and profiling such a wide range of heritage houses. “The subject alone is so enormous and varied that, after discussions with Craig, it was decided to establish parameters; I would try to avoid the attractions of anything built later than 1950; they would need to be worth keeping for the next generation as well as being privately owned and lived in – thereby narrowing the field by quite a large chunk as some of South Africa’s most celebrated houses are now in use as hotels or museums.”
Her appreciation of architecture, interiors and gardens (she also wrote Remarkable Gardens of South Africa) was inspired by the restoration of her family’s historical homestead many years ago.
I ask her how difficult it was to narrow the list down to 20 houses.
“To narrow the field to 20 was an exceptionally difficult process and my collaboration with Craig Fraser was key in finding the right balance of architecture; ravishingly beautiful homesteads full of history and treasures have been included with more humble structures that have been cleverly restored and rejuvenated by resourceful owners.
“Charismatic, characterful houses oozing charm and brought smartly up to date, most of them illustrating aesthetic responsibility and integrity along with a healthy dollop of impeccable taste – a flawless eye for decoration – a seemingly off-hand knack for putting objects together.
“These interiors go beyond what’s on trend and being caught up by immediate stuff, neither are they stuck in the past nor have they lost that special patina. This is what makes them different.”
De Hoek in Barrydale on the border of the Overberg and Klein Karoo is one of my favourite houses in the book. Not only does this “old Karoo” farmhouse have an elegant and homey feel to it, it also has some stunning, uninterrupted views. Nini talks me through the experience of discovering it and what made it stand out to her.
“I heard about Greg Mellor, owner of De Hoek, through a decorator he had worked with who mentioned briefly that Greg had a farm-style cottage near Barrydale. I was going to be in the area to view a house anyway and asked Greg if I could nip over and see his cottage. He wasn’t going to be there and was very kind to say I could. At the time it was being cleaned – cushions were all outside and furniture askew but there was an ambience there that resonated with what I was looking for and what I love… white-washed walls, pea-green wooden casement and sash windows, shutters, reed and beamed ceilings all encasing an unpretentious farmhousestyle of furnishing – welcoming, comfortable and sublime.
“The surroundings are astonishing; mountains and semidesert slipping away in the distance in the heat haze, the cottage itself a mishmash of country Karoo-style surrounded by a low ringmuur. Absolute peace and quiet. Bliss.”
The process of putting this book together was in many ways similar to that of Remarkable Gardens of SA. As with that, she worked closely with Fraser, whose imagery brought the book to life. “Our process for the making of the book: I would find houses that I thought could be suitable and take happy snaps. “Craig and I would go through them together to decide what he felt would photograph well and from there set up a shoot. He is the easiest, most supportive person in the world to work with and I feel I have been exceptionally lucky to work with him, Doyle and the team at Quivertree. And they make the most beautiful books!”
Despite the huge effort it took to profile such a wide range of houses, Nini also found it to be a hugely rewarding process. But what did she most enjoy about this entire process? “Furniture, old and modern cleverly juxtaposed and artworks, old oils to contemporary Africanist pieces gracing the walls were illuminating in every interior as were the stories – lots of wonderful inspirational stories of heritage and history, inheritance, ruins and restoration – all informing layers of ambience and autobiography. So fascinating to listen to!”
● Remarkable Heritage Houses of South Africa is available at all major book stores for R600.
De Hoek in Barrydale on the border of the Overberg and Klein Karoo . In Summer, alfresco dining takes place around a rustic trestle table on the latte-roofed side stoep.
Inside the De Hoek home. Kitchen paraphernalia is crammed onto shelves fitted either side of a window.