WORDS Justine Stafford PRODUCTION Luanne Toms PHOTOS Elsa Young/Frank Features
A Victorian home in Malmesbury has captured the heart of interior designer Etienne Hanekom.
“There was a wonderful feeling of glamorous decay to her,” says interior designer Etienne Hanekom of the grand old Victorian home he is lovingly restoring in Malmesbury. Languishing elegantly on a ridge overlooking the historic farming town an hour west of Cape Town, the generously proportioned four-bedroom house was built in 1850, when Malmesbury was still a popular destination for its revered hot springs.
Recent history, however, has not been kind. Rapid industrialisation of the town, as well as the ignominious positioning of a busy arterial road right in front of the house, threatened a fate of idle deterioration. Until Etienne stepped in. “I’d been keeping an eye on her, as I frequently used to drive past on my way to visit my parents,” he says. On an impulse, he decided to stop for a closer look, and discovered that the rambling 2 500m2 property took up an entire residential block, and had several unused outbuildings. The main house still retained original, metal- pressed ceiling tiles, timber floorboards and shutters, cast-iron fireplaces, and a deep front stoep so particular to its era.
“I was overwhelmed by the enormity of the task,”he says.“I realised that buying it would be less of a renovation project and more of a lifetime’s commitment to restoring the house to its former grandeur.” It was a commitment Etienne was willing to make – and, three years later, the dame is once more looking grand, and relishing in her fashionable makeover and new finery.
His starting point was to reconfigure the layout of the U-shaped home so that the outer facade and front garden act as a protective buffer from the road, while the interior living, dining and working spaces open up and flow out towards the back courtyard. Etienne ripped off the courtyard’s roof – which once covered a dingy, dark braai room – to let in light, and installed a custom-made steel bay window through to the kitchen. Today, a burbling water feature dampens any residual road noise, while a growing forest of delicate leopard trees, and what Etienne describes as a “silly mix” of shrubs and creepers, create a tranquil heart of the home.
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Inside, an irreverent mish-mash of designer pieces, taxidermy, art, greenery and vintage collectables exists peacefully against a muted backdrop of walls painted in dirty shades of green and pink. “I usually like bright colours, but here, I chose shades that work like shadows,” says Etienne. “I didn’t follow any particular brief; I just did what felt right in the moment.” This intuitive approach has paid off, as each hue sets a specific tone for every room in the house. Take the living room, for example, where one feature wall is painted a dark, almost black, shade of green. The darkness absorbs the warm glow of the spider-like ceiling lamp, creating a convivial cocoon conducive to long hours of lounging. The study sees every wall painted a satisfying shade of cinnamon pink to harmonise with the rich golden tones of the Oregon pine floors and ceilings. Apart from housing his vast collection of decor magazines and a treasure trove of well-worn books, this space also provides a secluded nook where he can quietly work or catch up on admin. One of his favourite rooms, however, is the large master bedroom, which he painted a soothing sage green because, as he puts it, “The heat can be unforgiving here in summer, and I need to feel cool and alive.”
At every turn, it’s evident that Etienne has used colour, design and his personal connection to the house to create a sense of warm invitation. The kitchen, in particular, resonates with this feeling of home: a tan leather couch reclines lazily before a large, farm-style fireplace, which has been clad in decorative blue-and-white plates. Rows of bottled peaches, pears and guavas jostle for space on a wooden shelf above the fridge, while pink tiles and a ceramic bunny head add a lighthearted cheerfulness in the scullery – unusual in a utilitarian space.
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Outside, Etienne has started rethinking the rest of the property. There’s a new open-air bar and lounge beside the swimming pool – a hot favourite with friends and family, who love to visit on weekends. He’s also converted one of the outhouses into a workshop, where he can happily create mess or while away hours tinkering on his vintage Mercedes-Benz SL. “I’ve put so much of myself into this house, and am emotionally hugely invested in it, so it’s been good to renovate slowly,” he says. “This way, I don’t rush changes I may later regret.