Herbertsdale Farmhouse

WORDS Debbie Loots IMAGES Jan Ras PRODUCTION Sumien Brink

Back in the ’90s, a farmer presented his new bride with a renovated Cape Dutch farmhouse. Being independent-minded, she first planted it a garden, then knocked down a few interior walls, rearranged the furniture and painted things black. And that was just for starters.

Step inside dairy farmers Illze and Wouter Muller’s contemporary-meets-classic Cape Dutch farmhouse near Herbertsdale and it’s clear the lady of the house likes black. And spend some time with this petite blonde whose smile lights up her face every time she talks and you realise she also likes to get her hands dirty, that most of her home’s transformation over the years wasn’t just her idea but also her handiwork.

From the design of the kitchen, bathroom and bedrooms to the finest decor detail, the garden, the pool area, the new orchard and vegetable patch. “I get inspired late at night,” says Illze, “when everyone else is asleep. I then paint walls another colour, like black.” She laughs. “Or move the bricks the bricklayer laid during the day for kitchen shelves. The cement was still wet; it was like sculpting!” So we believe Wouter when he says, with a twinkle in his eye, “The house looked very different in the ’80s, before she arrived.”

Back then, Wouter’s stepfather Andrew Muller restored the 1840s house to its original Cape Dutch glory and furnished it with antiques, most of them family heirlooms but also auction finds. “It was beautiful,” says Illze, “but a little like a museum. After we were married I could bring in my own style, which is a little more relaxed, and so create something special together with the lovely furniture we inherited and my granny’s antiques.” With a black wall thrown in here and there, of course!

“Yes,” she says, “black offsets anything, old or new, beautifully.” But before Illze could decorate her home, big things had to happen, like repurposing rooms, breaking down interior walls and laying new slate flooring. So, what was once the lonely lounge with beautiful views across the valley was transformed into the glorious, bustling kitchen, and the front bedroom became the expansive living room.

The main bathroom was also expanded and got a shower floor of river pebbles that Illze knocked into the cement herself. The children’s bedroom – Annegret is a student at Stellenbosch University and Anet and Hendrik-Wahl, twins, are in matric – got its own bathroom and a staircase leading to the attic, to a playroom they loved when they were little. The attic is Illze’s next project. “I’m going to paint the floor white up there,” she says. That’s right, white. “But I want to leave the space open, to be anything at any time. And then there’s also the old barn…” The dust, it seems, hasn’t quite settled on this farm yet.