Cape Winelands Cottage

WORDS Louis Orlianges PHOTOS Henrique Wilding PRODUCTION Sumien Brink

The French owners of a 130-year-old cottage in Pniel, former GQ publisher Louis Orlianges and veterinarian Benoît Thomas, have renovated it with care to retain its architectural authenticity.

Travelling from Stellenbosch towards Franschhoek, you ascend Helshoogte Pass and then wind through Banhoek, a valley flanked by majestic mountains. It is arguably one of the most scenic parts of South Africa, but not the most obvious place for a Parisian couple to settle, despite frequent visits to the Western Cape for more than 20 years to catch up with many local friends.

We had been looking at houses along the coast for many years with an eye to buying a holiday home, but meeting OKASIE owners Chris Willemse and Dané Erwee led us to discover the charms of South African country living.

This house is the result of our friendship with Chris and Dané, and of the many discussions about the 130-year-old dwelling, as they wanted us to retain its soul and distinctive rural architecture.

Original openings were vertically enlarged with steel-framed windows and doors that connect every space to the outdoors, while respecting the proportions of the square pitch-roofed house. The former car port, or afdak, became a simple kitchen. The floor, which had no foundation, was transformed by hand using klompies (small hand-made Dutch bricks) and pieces of Delft found on the site. Now, the kitchen is the heart of the house, with an enormous cupboard as the main feature.

Ceiling boards were removed to reveal Oregon pine beams, which we kept dark brown, and paddle ceiling fans were installed in all the rooms.

In winter, the large central fireplace allows for cosiness in the lounge and kitchen, and underfloor heating makes the sleeping area comfortable. We sacrificed one bedroom to create an elongated lounge with doors to the north and south to accommodate the open fireplace on the kitchen side and a steel shelving unit on the garden side. Scaffolding planks were nailed to the existing cement floor as a cost-effective covering. The traditional entrance corridor was retained, with two generous bedrooms on either side.

French linen has been dyed and transformed into bedding. Likewise, every piece of furniture and every painting comes from French brocantes or local flea markets. Luxury oversized headboards form an intriguing contrast with the modesty of the rooms. The interior has a layered feeling with the assemblage of found and locally created items. The stoep with its corrugated roof and diamond-shaped windows was transformed into two bathrooms with floor-to-roof windows. In the one, a modern freestanding bath overlooks a magnificent dark-red camellia shrub, connecting this private space with the garden.

Our home is located in one of the richest and most diverse natural environments in the world. Having plants and flowers in the house is an acknowledgement of the environment in which we’ve chosen to settle.

Every window had to enable us to engage with a different natural experience, from the camellias to the constantly changing vista of the Groot Drakenstein Mountains.