Words by Julia Freemantle
It has been 10 years since Babylonstoren’s owners, Koos Bekker and Karen Roos, first opened their maiden hotel venture on the estate. Since then, the couple has achieved international renown for aspirational destinations that honour context and place, promise escape and offer a return to a simpler, slower, more conscious way of living.
The new Fynbos Family house combines everything the brand is known for in its exclusive-use family retreat. Setback from the main estate buildings, the contemporary Cape-Dutch-inspired villa is positioned at the foot of the Simonsberg and Franschhoek mountains, slightly elevated to enjoy views over the beautiful fynbos garden immediately surrounding it, and further over the citrus orchards. That gives it seclusion and privacy but easy proximity to the estate’s restaurants, winery, spa and gardens. The five-suite house, situated within a private walled garden, is a secret sanctuary, a self-contained world within the Babylonstoren universe. Built in a U-shape, the outdoor spaces invite leisurely family gatherings.
The glass cube conservatory-style kitchen – a nod to Babylonstoren’s origins – maximise indoor/outdoor living, and remind you that you are, in fact, in a garden, within a garden. ‘The courtyard’s covered stoep was inspired by the farm stoeps I remember from my childhood,’ says Karen. ‘I imagined it to be the prime clan gathering space. here, the style is more colourful, perhaps nostalgic. Think The oyster Bar in Umhlanga Rocks or Sea Point’s Winchester Mansions during the ’50s through to the ’70s.’ Karen, whose decor credentials reach as far back as her time as Editor-in-Chief of Elle Decoration South Africa, has made a name for herself for interiors that cleverly incorporate the past in fresh ways and combine influences and eras.
Here, her successful balance of contemporary design elements while honouring the property’s 18th century heritage is proof of her deft and subtle design hand. In addition to weaving a sense of heritage throughout the space, Karen’s reverence for simplicity shines through. And as with the original hotel suites and newer Fynbos cottages, the idea is to celebrate the simplicity of farm life via design. ‘The core ideals remain: timeless, spacious, clutter-free. A space where one can breathe again,’ she says.
This apparent simplicity belies very considered and careful curation and composition, which Karen is renowned for – her unparalleled attention to detail, but sans cliché, and without any sense of it feeling forced. her signature artful touch is apparent in all aspects of the estate. At the Fynbos Family house, these accents are amplified in keeping with the larger footprint, giving the space character, warmth, and the feeling of a home rather than a hotel. ‘We wanted to create the ideal setting for a family get together: bedrooms arranged to face each other, a kitchen with large glazing for sunny breakfasts, facilities for a communal braai,’ says Karen.
The communally conceived space, considered touches and layout all come together in a seamless space to use and stay in that instils serenity whether you are there during summer, dining alfresco or wine tasting by the open fireplace in winter. In line with the idea of home, each bedroom has a slightly different format (and personality). some feature a fireplace, others a dressing room, and one has a little balcony with a swinging chair to sit and appreciate the view.
All have a beautiful bathroom – something of a Babylonstoren signature – which encapsulates the spirit of this destination: to experience, on a sensory level, the peace and tranquillity being in the country and connected to nature brings. In the furnishings and design accents, Karen says, ‘comfort and quality were our selection criteria – we carefully considered every piece, but with a light touch.’
A light touch, but light-hearted too – Karen is a master at fostering moments of joy. Whether that is the farm-fresh baskets of produce you can create a family meal with or the tussie mussie (a fragrant bunch of herbs) by the tub that you can drop into the water for an aromatic bath. ‘above all, we would like visitors to ground themselves again. To enjoy the mountains as much as we do, pick fruit and veg, play pétanque (a type of boules), swim in the farm dam, await sunset with a glass of wine in hand, and then slip in between sheets of crisp linen and drift away,’ she says.