houses

Marianne Fassler and her Garden Route Hideaway

Fashion designer Marianne Fassler has reinvented an avant-garde ’70s cabin in the Tsitsikamma forest with her colourful, craft-inspired style.

Daron Chatz

Fashion designer Marianne Fassler has reinvented an avant-garde ’70s cabin in the Tsitsikamma forest with her colourful, craft-inspired style | House and Leisure

Season after season, for more than four decades, Marianne Fassler has managed to reinvigorate the vibrant contemporary Africanism that has been her trademark to advance the possibilities of local aesthetics, craft and pattern. As social, political and aesthetic climates have shifted, she’s constantly operated at the cutting edge, seemingly defying the laws of nature. One of the secrets to her tireless ability to remain inventive and relevant, however, has been the fact that she has never limited herself to the realm of fashion design. Her wide-ranging interest in all aspects of art, culture, craft and design give her style a depth and range that few in her field can draw on. And the way that she and her husband Charles Bothner recently refurbished and made a small alteration to the wooden cabin that is their Garden Route hideaway in Nature’s Valley perfectly illustrates how holistic and comprehensive Marianne Fassler's approach to design is.

Marianne Fassler and her family have returned to this private refuge, which has belonged to the family since her father commissioned it to be built in the early ’70s, since she was in her early twenties. ‘It's right in the middle of the Tsitsikamma National Park, so there’s no commercial development there, and it can never get any bigger,’ she says. ‘There's just a narrow strip, literally four roads, with a big lagoon. It’s so peaceful. Our view from the living room is a wall of ancient forest.’ The sense of escape is total. Once there, Marianne and Charles hardly leave the valley. ‘At the top of the pass there’s a nice community of people doing organic farming,’ she says. ‘There’s a farm stall there that has everything you want, so we don’t ever have to go grocery shopping.’

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The house

Fashion designer Marianne Fassler has reinvented an avant-garde ’70s cabin in the Tsitsikamma forest with her colourful, craft-inspired style | House and Leisure

‘Our house is very much a product of my dad,’ says Marianne Fassler. Koos van der Wat was a well-known gynaecologist – she recalls him as ‘flamboyant’ – and her mother Hannatjie is a highly respected abstract artist, best known for her brightly coloured, hard-edged geometric paintings. They were close friends of architect Willie Meyer, one of the foremost architects of the time. (His firm Meyer Pienaar Architects designed landmark projects such as the University of Johannesburg campus, and many others including the Everard Read Gallery, the extension to Johannesburg Art Gallery, Sandton Square and, currently, under the new banner of Co-Arc International Architects, The Leonardo – Sandton’s highest tower.)

Meyer’s young associate at the time, Francois Pienaar (now director), designed the original cabin for Marianne Fassler’s parents. ‘In the old days, everybody in Nature’s Valley built A-frames,’ she says. Francois’ design was a kind of avant-garde interpretation of the local style, with perhaps a hint of Japanese influence. Marianne Fassler says that some years ago, she and Charles realised that her parents could no longer manage the upkeep.
‘So we offered to buy it,’ she says.

Francois and Hannatjie are still friends, so they convinced him to visit the cabin with them. ‘He made some beautiful freehand drawings,’ she says, but ultimately the renovation project was handed over to Plett architect Paul Oosthuizen. Apart from some interior changes – opening up the kitchen and integrating it with the living space, adding a deck, and moving some of the rooms around, the most significant change they made was to add a bathroom above the stairwell. It has a curved Rheinzink roof, and oculus and strip window perfectly placed to concentrate the eye on the breathtaking views. ‘Paul Oosthuizen got it exactly right,’ says Charles. ‘He looked at it as a piece of sculpture.’

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The interior

Fashion designer Marianne Fassler has reinvented an avant-garde ’70s cabin in the Tsitsikamma forest with her colourful, craft-inspired style | House and LeisureFashion designer Marianne Fassler has reinvented an avant-garde ’70s cabin in the Tsitsikamma forest with her colourful, craft-inspired style | House and LeisureFashion designer Marianne Fassler has reinvented an avant-garde ’70s cabin in the Tsitsikamma forest with her colourful, craft-inspired style | House and Leisure

‘Everybody said, surely you’re going to paint the wood,’ says Marianne Fassler. ‘And I said, “No – it’s a wooden house!”’ She reconceived the interiors in a way she describes as ‘same same, but radically different’. While she was respectful of the existing finishes, and even kept some of her parents’ furniture – including their Danish sofa corner unit – she re-envisioned the cabin with bright colours, an eclectic range of furnishings, and a strong bias towards local designers who do beautiful work with timber.

Marianne Fassler likes to draw on local crafts, so she also kept the old locally made riempie chairs around the dining-room table, which she supplemented with other pieces from the likes of De Steyl. Patrick Reid finely crafted the kitchen, which is now better integrated with the living spaces. Other South African crafters and designers such as David Krynauw (who also gave the riempie chairs a modern touch with bright rope weaving on the seats), John Vogel, and Wiid Design in collaboration with Ceramic Matters make appearances. And she’s brought in a few contemporary creature comforts, such as the super comfortable Roche Bobois lounge suite and colourful Kartell Masters chairs by Philippe Starck, too.

Bright colours and beautiful patterns abound, from African wax prints and Basotho blankets to plastic raffia mats from Vietnam. A bold green bookshelf has been inserted between the living-room wall beams, the chimney flues are flaming red and the plastered walls have been painted yellow. ‘My mom had always had some yellow, but it was an egg yellow,’ says Marianne Fassler. ‘I used a more acid yellow.’   

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The view

Fashion designer Marianne Fassler has reinvented an avant-garde ’70s cabin in the Tsitsikamma forest with her colourful, craft-inspired style | House and Leisure

Upstairs, the bedroom has panoramic views of the ocean and forest. ‘The bedroom was always my mother’s studio,’ Marianne Fassler explains. It’s been cleverly partitioned with a beautiful Casamento headboard that doubles as a room divider, creating a dressing room in the hard-to-use space beneath the roof pitch. ‘We didn’t go all the way to the ceiling, so you could still look at the architectural details,’ says Marianne Fassler. The new en suite bathroom leads off the bedroom with that ‘totally brilliant intervention’ of the oculus and its sunrise views.

Like all things Marianne Fassler, her ‘holiday bungalow’, as she calls it, is vibrant, deeply rooted in craft and local aesthetics and filled with detail. ‘I always thought this was going to be the minimalist one,’ she laughs. But it is more exciting than minimalism: it is harmoniously integrated with its setting, as avant-garde as it was when it was first built, and a unique expression of an aesthetic vision that has pioneered South African style for more than four decades.

READ MORE: See Marianne Fassler's Concrete Flower collection.