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A trio of heritage homes in South Africa we completely love

Heritage month for South Africans is here and what better way to celebrate than exploring the very best homes we have to offer. Let's take a look at these gems

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By Yashna Balwanth | September 24, 2022 | Interiors

We have rounded up three completely different, but still beautiful heritage homes we cannot seem to get enough of. From the city to the countryside, South Africa is a melting pot of cultures and traditions where every single one should be celebrated. As we rejoice this Heritage Day with loved ones, let’s explore how different families choose to style their homes in different parts of the country.

1. City Living at its Finest

Interior designer Donald Nxumalo invited us into his Johannesburg home that reflects a perfect showcase of his feel-good style. Pattern and colour make the first impression, applied with controlled abandon, a brand of calculated insouciance that resonates with this designer. ‘There was no mood board, I just allowed the process to guide me and it unfolded in front of me,’ says Donald. ‘The important question for me was not “does it match?” but rather, “do I love that? does it feel good?” It is about not being intentional but being intuitive.’

‘Though many of the elements were decided upon at different times, at the end they all came together cohesively.’ a self-described international thinker with a local connection, Donald’s home – and his style – are informed by both his travels as well as a keen reverence for his heritage. ‘My grandmother was Ndebele so if something stands still for long enough, we paint and bead it,’ he laughs. ‘If we had to describe rooms as a “wave”, a “handshake” or a “hug”, this layering definitely makes these rooms that hug,’ he says. What has become clear is that Donald’s approach is that of a storyteller, weaving together interiors with narrative, spaces that let you see the personal side of the person living there in a way that’s charged with energy and life.

A view of the dining room and open kitchen of Donald’s apartment, Photograph: Elsa Young

2. Out in the Landscape

While this may be a holiday home for Stephanie Kienle Gonzalez and her family, the landscape and conservation mindset behind the abundantly biodiverse Waterberg territory is really what drew Stephanie to this site. She enlisted the help of Julie Williams, an architect well-known for delicately balancing the man-made with its environment. The house is set alongside a dramatic craggy cliff on one side and a lush green plain on the other. ‘We tried to build out from the geological mould of the cliff,’ notes Stephanie. There are clear lines that fuse the home to the land, parallels that bond this building with this natural site: excavated rock from the site was used to construct walls, and they relied on local materials for the reed ceilings, joinery and slatso. ‘Julia helped us make these clever decisions, which were architecturally challenging but rewarding,’ she says.

The terrace is a cool spot that draws the family outdoors on hot days, Photograph: Elsa Young

Working with Joburg-based interior designer Yvonne O’Brien of The Private House Company, Stephanie incorporated South African artisanal crafts with Filipino touches for the interiors. ’We wanted to blend these two cultures in the home and make sure they were representative of a slower way of doing things,’ she explains. There is a palpable harmony between South Africa and Filipino that seamlessly blends into one another, while still holding true to their own. ‘We wanted pieces that support local craftsmanship and champion conscious design.’ mentions Stephanie. She is currently managing director of Philux, a Manila-based contemporary furniture brand, and you’ll happily find her designs throughout the home. ‘It’s so much more meaningful to have a piece with soul. In every space I create and layer, you’ll always find these bits and pieces with stories behind them.’

Ultimately, this is a family home inspired by generations before. Stephanie’s love for Africa grew out of the stories she heard from her dad and grandmother, who lived, for a time, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. ‘I’m trying to live vicariously through my father’s childhood, but at the same time, I’m creating my own memories with my family,’ she says.

Stephanie Kienle Gonzalez at the entrance to Modumela House, Photograph: Elsa Young

3. A Place of Wonder

Owners Sue and Bernard Fontannaz stumbled across this treasured Cape Dutch manor home more than 18 years ago when they initially purchased Le Grand Jardin out in the Stellenbosch vineyards. The home originates back to 1934, designed by a student of Sir Herbet Baker, but later, altered slightly by architect Gerrit van der Wolf. The home was altered to reinstate its traditional H-structure, while the small pine staircase was replaced with a 1920s Burmese teak masterpiece found in a Johannesburg demolition yard. Gerrit was also in charge of building the glasshouse out in the garden, which was an ode to Bernard’s love of old-fashioned conservatories.

The interiors were a complete mix of antique finds and souvenirs, heritage pieces and beloved travel items collected over the years all complemented by vibrant fabrics and prints throughout the home. ‘It’s a mix of Kit Kemp and Nick Jones,’ Sue explains of her decor influences. ‘Kit for her love of colour and blending local craft with art and design, and Nick for his attention to comfort and fun, rather than don’t-touch glamour.’

Streetwires were tasked with fashioning Alice in Wonderland characters for the garden, theming the outdoors around an escapism that calls for magical exploration by children and adults alike. ‘Some of my best memories are of growing up with big, open, rambling gardens, and I’ve always loved the sense of space,’ Sue explains of her invitation for guests to immerse themselves in the property. ‘I think there are enough elegant guest houses out there,’ she says, ‘but when I go away for a weekend, I just want to relax and have some fun.’ The couple, who emigrated overseas eight years ago, still visit Le Grand Jardin a few times a year, renting it out to other families when they’re away, through their hospitality company Wonderland Escapes. ‘It offers busy families the space to escape from reality for a while and have fun together,’ Sue explains.

The entrance to Le Grand Jardin, Photograph: Henrique Wilding