Text Leigh Robertson Styling Tracy Lee Lynch Photographs Justin Patrick
On those typically icy winter nights in the Overberg town of Bredasdorp, near Arniston and wild, wind-lashed Agulhas, a hearth-fire burns almost steadily until morning in the solid-walled holiday home of artist Conrad Botes and his wife Jeanne. ‘Whoever passes by has to feed it some wood, and the first one up has to make sure it’s revived by the time everyone else has risen,’ says Jeanne of wintry weekends spent at the house, usually with an entourage of friends or family in tow.
As House and Leisure’s decor editor, Jeanne spends her days (and many a night) conceptualising, sourcing for and styling shoots for the magazine, and yet she’s found reserves of creative energy for the ‘ongoing project’ of doing up the Bredasdorp house. The reward is that the couple and their three-year-old daughter, Nell, can leave Cape Town after work on a Friday and within three hours flop down in a space that’s as cosy and artfully styled (in that seemingly effortless manner of decor professionals) as their home in Woodstock. ‘It’s really just comfortable and unpretentious,’ notes Jeanne.
Conrad has been hands-on in getting the house weekend-ready since it was bought in 2003, having put in lots of muscle-power and TLC. ‘It had all the character,’ says Jeanne of the old farmhousestyle dwelling set on the fringes of the town, surrounded by towering blue gums and feeling perfectly far from any madding crowds. ‘Inside, though, it was really dark and horrible,’ she adds. And so fiddly walls were knocked down and a generous single living area created, with the fireplace an essential addition. A collapsed garage was rebuilt as a guest cottage, providing additional accommodation to the three bedrooms in the main house.
Walls were given a lick of white paint and the concrete floor in the living area was painted pale grey, which is complemented by the light blue of the doors and window frames. ‘We wanted to keep everything neutral because of the colour of all the art that would be hung on the walls,’ Jeanne says with a smile, pointing out works by Conrad and artist friends such as Brett Murray and Tracy Payne. Conrad also made much of the furniture, upcycling old pieces found at the Milnerton market and elsewhere to become enviable bespoke items. Jeanne’s ‘very first decor purchase, made many years ago’ – an Art-Deco lounge suite – was cleverly zooted up in white vinyl. ‘It’s easy to keep clean,’ she laughs.
In fact, she adds, ‘everything in the house is about being simple and practical’: being away for periods of time means things get musty if left in closed cupboards, so storage – from clothes rails to kitchen dressers – was designed by Conrad to be open and accessible. ‘Likewise, all the cushions have washable covers.’
The family’s Bredasdorp escapes entail suitably laid-back entertainment arrangements. Conrad, a devout fly-fisherman, likes to launch his boat at nearby Struisbaai, and while he generally practises catch-and-release fishing, he’ll sometimes return with fresh tuna or yellowtail for the braai (‘It’s sheltered so the weather is never a concern,’ says Jeanne).
Conrad’s other passion is replanting the expansive back garden with indigenous fynbos, slowly removing invasive and exotic species. And when he’s not in the garden or out on his boat, they’ll all go off for drives to the nature reserve or for wine tastings at farms such as Black Oystercatcher in Elim.
The couple loves ‘how quiet it is in the evenings; there’s an owl that lives in the trees, and you can see all the stars.’ And, adds Jeanne, ‘we sleep really well here too.’ A good thing when another deadline week looms.
Conrad and Jeanne’s Home Truths
The first thing we do when we arrive at the house is switch on the geyser (Jeanne); water the newly planted fynbos and proteas (Conrad).
The best thing about winters spent here is cooking tasty food and drinking good red wine with friends (Conrad).
My favourite room is the bathroom, which has a view of the garden from the bath (Jeanne).
We always pack fly-fishing rods and more indigenous plants (Conrad); magazines and books (Jeanne).
The best design advice for holiday houses is keep it simple and easy to clean (Jeanne).
The winter trends I think are hot right now are wallpaper, grey, mohair and geometric patterns (Jeanne).
My most rash purchase is the 8-metre ‘I-beam’ that we didn’t use in the renovations (Conrad); all my purchases are rash! (Jeanne)
Our entertaining style is very simple, uncomplicated and relaxed, with one-pot-wonders like risotto or soup (Jeanne).
My signature dish is paella, or yellowtail steaks on the open fire (Conrad).
I’m inspired by travelling (Jeanne); nature (Conrad).
The soundtrack of our perfect weekend is Tom Waits, Frank Sinatra and Buena Vista Social Club (Conrad).
Our favourite local dining spots are Adrian’s Bistro and B-square in Bredasdorp, and Willeen’s or Kassie’s Kove in Arniston (Jeanne).
This article was originally featured in the June 2011 House and Leisure issue