Oudtshoorn Heritage Home

WORDS Laurian Brown IMAGES Dook PRODUCTION Annemarie Meintjes

Furnished with treasures and memories from a lifetime of collecting, an interior designer’s Oudtshoorn retreat is an intermingling of country charm and cosmopolitan flair.

All Karoo towns have their own rustic appeal, but Oudtshoorn has panache. The flamboyant spirit of the feather barons lives on in its lavish sandstone buildings with their broekielace fretwork – and in its feisty charm.

Interior designer David Strauss succumbed to this charm five years ago while looking for a house to buy for once-a-month getaways from Cape Town. He found a solid old sandstone classic, built in the town’s Victorian heyday, in West Bank. No palace this: a deep stoep, a string of small rooms off a wide central passage, the only flourish a wagon-wheel precast fence. Some renovation was necessary, but the age of the house meant the exterior could not be modified and any alterations would have to be undertaken under the strict eye of the heritage authorities.

“I was a bit lost to start off with because I knew nobody,” says David. “But this is such a friendly town. And everybody knows everybody else, which is very helpful. If you get stuck, you just ask somebody, anybody.”

It took only a few enquiries for help to come flooding in, in the capable form of builder Seun de Jager, landscaper Henties de Villiers, and multitalented mine of local information Morkel Mulder. Their combined skills helped David to create the spacious retreat, which he has now made his home. He keeps only a small pied-à-terre in Cape Town and spends as much time in Oudtshoorn as his work will allow. “Which is wonderful, because it’s quiet here; you can do all your admin, and the city is rush-rush-rush.”

The main house, where his mother lives, has remained basically unchanged. “I removed two interior walls to make bigger rooms and ripped out most of the built-in cupboards, but that was about it.” His next step was to build a cottage studio for himself right next to it.

“And then I thought: Why not build a summerhouse? And it’s worked so well, because it has created a courtyard. I’ve always been a courtyard person. I like places to be enclosed. It gives you a sense of being elsewhere, not in suburbia.”

David had more than enough furniture and art for both the main house and the summerhouse. Some of his most precious things are inherited; the rest come from a lifetime of collecting, each piece selected for its appeal and intrinsic quality, and arranged with the same unerring eye.

“It’s eclectic, not typical old-house. But I wanted to respect the house and be sympathetic to its age. My furniture all seemed to fit in easily and I hope there’s harmony. I choose things only because I like them. I can remember the day and place I bought each item, but I often can’t remember the artist or the maker. The meaning of something is much more important to me than a name or value.”