WORDS Debbie Loots PRODUCTION Tracy Lynch PHOTOS Jan Ras
A charming city slicker made his childhood dream come true when he transformed a ramshackle village homestead into a guesthouse. He didn’t mind that the closest restaurant was half an hour away.
When he was a child Laurent Bayard lived with his family in an apartment in Lyon, France’s second largest city. On weekends, while visiting his grandparents in the nearby village of Couvaloup (“wolf den”), he fell in love with nature and animals, especially dogs. So much so that he promised himself to one day have his own country home with a plot large enough to keep many furry friends.
Fast-forward to now, and this Frenchman, aka fashion fundi, traveller extraordinaire and astute businessman, has done just that – got himself a rambling 19th-century ranch on a 1.5 hectare plot with lots of animals.
But, swopping the city buzz for a peaceful country life didn’t mean he was ready to sit on the stoep and watch cows go by. No, he turned his rambling ramshackle into a fancy guesthouse and called it Couvaloup, and it’s not perched in romantic rural France, but on a hilltop in Hopefield, an inconspicuous West Coast dorp where the annual flower fair and cheesy pizza takeaway are as far as local attractions go.
“I love the countryside!” says Laurent, welcoming us to Couvaloup. He is flanked by two enormous Great Danes, Sacha and Banana. “And, I especially love Hopefield,” he continues, leading us to his bathroom for a surprise. “It’s not like those trendy villages; it’s still undiscovered. Do you know: the nearest restaurant is all the way in Paternoster? I love it!”
In his bathroom we peep into the shower – itself a room within a room. A ginormous cushion, wedged in by a plank, covers the floor, transforming it into the nursery of nine Great Dane puppies.
“It may not look like it, but this is a beautiful space,” says Laurent. He cuddles a pup while trying to lift a cushion corner for a peep at the floor. “There are really gorgeous Moroccan tiles underneath.”
He leads the way outside and three more dogs join the congregation on the large veranda to contemplate the view across the property. It stretches down to the river and Laurent points to where he planted 200 new trees, including white stinkwood, Chinese poplars and wild figs. “I watch them grow from my bed every morning,” he says.
Then he points to a double-volume corrugated-iron building, the water of the swimming pool shimmering blue in its large windows. “I found those beautiful frames in a junk shop and decided to build a pool house around them.”
Later, we resume our tour of his beautiful home, whose renovation took a year to complete. “I moved in with my mattress, kettle and the builders,” he says. “It was a massive job. I had 15 people here every day – building, painting, sanding, varnishing.”
The major work included a complete overhaul of the outside barn’s three en-suite bedrooms, as well as repairing and building en-suite bathrooms for the five bedrooms inside. This Laurent did without compromising on spaciousness, allowing the look and feel of each to determine the character of their bathrooms. Another major undertaking was the building of expansive terraces right around the house, onto which all the bedroom doors open up.
The house and barn’s woodwork was also fully restored, from the antique window frames and shutters to the doors and floors. “Getting the old carpeting glue off the floors was like trying to scrape off ancient chewing gum,” Laurent shudders. “Terrible.”
Although private and surrounded by more new trees, the outside barn has easy access through a pretty walkway to the house’s communal lounge and dining room. Here, a 1910 fireplace was restored and in the adjacent room, le petit salon (little lounge), a new gas hearth was built. “This is a place where guests can simply chill.”
All the interior spaces speak of Laurent’s propensity to collect beautiful stuff, from feathered taxidermy to giant moths pinned in glass boxes, junk-shop display cabinets and collections of retro glassware. Pictures are grouped together in bathrooms and in communal areas while the bedroom wall decor is kept simple. “A bedroom is a resting place,” he says.
In the kitchen Laurent shows the metal unit he designed himself. “Its marble top was cut on site and was so heavy that we had to build concrete support underneath the wooden floors.”
Back on the veranda Sacha and Shalom nudge at him while he looks across the bridge leading into town. “When I’ve finished looking at the trees from my bed in the morning, I gaze at the bridge. There’s never any traffic, Monday or Sunday.” He suddenly goes wide-eyed. “Except, there was a funeral party going across the other day. My god, what a sight!” He laughs. “I love the countryside!”
For more information or to book a stay, visit couvaloup.co.za.