Heart still in these re­mark­able HOMES

A metic­u­lously crafted book of some of SA’s most pic­turesque and sto­ried her­itage houses, writes Shin­gai Darangwa

The Sunday Independent - - Life Travel -

‘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.

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