WORDS Anet Pienaar Vosloo PRODUCTION Sumien Brink PHOTOS Jan Ras
Louis Jansen van Vuuren and Hardy Olivier, who live in a chateau in the French countryside, have built a holiday house on the West Coast that marries their love of France with their South African heritage.
When you travel north-west from Cape Town to Brittania Bay, past Yzerfontein, you become acutely aware of the desolate, barren countryside. It is a harsh yet beautiful landscape.
For well-known artist and blossoming poet Louis Jansen van Vuuren and his life and business partner Hardy Olivier, the West Coast is their South African haven. They are the duo behind La Creuzette in Boussac, France, a retreat loved by the hundreds of happy visitors who have experienced the beauty and charm of their petit château in the Limousin region, where they get to spend time cooking, painting, writing and delighting in Louis and Hardy’s varied offers.
Louis and Hardy may have spent the past 18 years building this unique French experience for themselves and those who are privileged enough to share it, but they always knew they would never divorce themselves from their motherland. Which is why they decided to establish a South African nest in a village on the West Coast.
There are perlemoen farms, fish factories, fishermen’s houses and newly built holiday mansions in Britannia Bay. The earth is hard and barren, the sea misty and cold.
“We decided on this part of the country because we used to come here to dive and fish when we were students at Stellenbosch. It holds very special memories,” says Louis. “The landscape is in sharp contrast to the softness and opulence of La Creuzette, which is exactly what we wanted.”
The style of and inspiration for the house originated with a few stones, shells and a cormorant bone that Louis and Hardy picked up on the site. They soon found their design soul mate in Langebaan architectural draughtsman Leonard de Klerk. Hardy became the force behind the design and, together with Leonard, the couple analysed wind direction, sun position, shadow and style before the first brick was laid.
One of the most challenging facets of the build turned out to be a floating staircase that stalled the building process for a few months while engineers struggled to figure out the construction. It took 18 months to complete the house, during which time Louis and Hardy indulged in their passion: sourcing antique pieces from vintage markets all over France.
Their finds were meticulously placed in the interior. The focal point of the house is a 17th-century Aubusson tapestry displayed on a wall that was custom-built to fit his precious treasure to the millimetre. The title of the piece is, aptly, Summer – it depicts Apollo and Aphrodite being pulled in a wagon by lions. This, says Louis, is symbolic of their connection with France and Africa.
The house is a place where the two men can reacquaint themselves with their Africanness. Hardy cooks, entertains and looks after the administration, and Louis indulges his soul in the tall studio space, giving his artistic emotions wings on canvas. “This,” says Louis while gazing out of the tall studio window, “is where the West Coast meets Versailles.”