Handmade Tale

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Building a house today is often a swiftly efficient process, with an outcome that is resolutely modern, with all the requisite features and fittings that proclaim “new”.

It’s quite another thing to create a home that is elegantly timeless, like this one, situated at the nexus of the Western Cape suburbs of Bishopscourt, Wynberg and Alphen. It wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine that it’s been in existence for generations, quietly ageing gracefully as the decades pass.

A view of the house, we well as its verdant surroundings.

The owners, formerly resident in Johannesburg, had long dreamed of a Cape Town base that drew together elements of a Cape Dutch farmhouse and the Cape Georgian vernacular – both firmly rooted in previous centuries.

The search for their dream house eventually brought them to a large property high above the Constantia Valley, densely covered in pine trees and allowing only tantalising glimpses of Constantiaberg beyond.

The dining room bookcase was constructed at Andy de Klerk Cabinet Works

Over the next two years, a major undertaking took place: first, the land had to be cleared – many of the pine trees were felled. Patrick Watson was the landscape architect chosen to tame and sculpt the grounds. To enhance the magnificence of the location, he and his colleague Iwan Roux planted some 450 new trees (including olives). 

Exterior view of the study and the courtyard.

They created a circular, all-embracing sweep of landscaping, with the grounds edged by the few remaining pine trees and the mountains of Constantiaberg framing the scenic “amphitheatre”. The original vineyards of the property were retained, however, their grapes regularly consigned to neighbouring Klein Constantia. 

Water was to be a thematic feature: there’s a long stretch of swimming pool, and – especially loved by the owner – a reflecting pool, inspired by the famous version in the Alhambra in Spanish Granada. At dusk, she says, it particularly comes into its own, mirroring the sky and the fringes of trees.

The swimming pool

Next came the house itself. Cape Town architect Philip Briel was commissioned to help give effect to the couple’s ideas. “He was alive to all the possibilities and sensitive to our vision,” says the owner. 

The original design envisaged a single storey, but it evolved and now the main house is flanked by a traditional jongmans huis on one side and a private office-bedroom suite on the other. The upper floor houses the main en-suite bedrooms. Adding to the exterior architectural authenticity are gables and, delightfully, a tin roof. 

The entrance hall features a Robert Hodgins artwork and antique rugs from Weitsman Carpets and Turkey.

Extra-high ceilings, deep mouldings, interior shutters, and glass-paned interior doors are also undeniably Cape farmhouse-style. The sun room is both a restful, comfortable, family space and one of the best view sites in the house. 

“I can’t overemphasise how important the contribution was of the craftspeople involved,” says the owner. “The entire team brought passion and skill in equal measure.” Among others, she credits Andy de Klerk of Cabinetworks, in particular Jarvis Ball, who made eye-catching bookcases; and Guy Wood of Van Dijk Studio, who was responsible for the extensive brass work. 

The tapestry in the entrance hall was designed by Caroline Cullinan and woven at Stephens Tapestry Studio.

Works by William Kentridge, Robert Hodgins and Walter Meyer mingle with heirloom and bespoke pieces.

Andy de Klerk Cabinetworks: 021 422 3830

Iwan Roux: 082 570 7822

Philip Briel: philipbriel.com

Van Dijk Studios: 021 557 4074 

Hanging lights in the kitchen are from the French House in London.

A work by William Kentridge hangs above an antique Chinese chest in the living room.

The dining room bookcase is lined with indigo-dyed cloth from Mali.

Robert Hodgins’ Little Miss Priss artwork

Text Deborah Rudman Photography Elsa Young