Text Glynis Horning Styling Lisa Adams Photographs Sean Calitz Sarah Owen fell in love with Surrey Farm the instant she saw it. ‘It was rambling and run-down, but the lush lakeside setting was magnificent and I could picture the possibilities,’ she says of the 70-year-old farmstead set in 132 hectares outside Fort Nottingham in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. She has spent the past three years bringing the place lovingly to life as a weekend retreat to be shared with her family and friends. Sarah grew up surrounded by antiques and objets d’art at Crowhurst Place in Kloof, today a five-star manor house and spa. ‘My parents had great flair and gave me a love of rich colours, worn wood, the patina of rusty metal – and an appreciation of fine craftsmanship,’ she says. Over the years she’s explored these as an artist, a sculptor, a collector and ‘passionate recycler’, remodelling old jewellery and furnishings found on jaunts to junk shops in Durban’s Point Road, old palaces in India, street markets in France and antique fairs in England. She sells these pieces at her Morningside shops Naughty 90s Antiques and The Storeroom, housed in twin Victorian cottages linked by a contemporary conservatory containing her quirky Antique Café. Elements of these are reflected in Surrey Farm – a sprawling, engaging mix of styles and colours pulled together by Sarah’s sure eye. Different generations of owners built additions in brick, stone and slasto, and a half dozen bedrooms open off a long staggered passageway with several massive living rooms at one end. What may have daunted many decorators delighted Sarah – but not as much as a discovery attached to the other end of the house. There, under a tangle of creepers and trees beside the lake, lay a dilapidated old dairy, destined to become her private retreat. With an assortment of local builders and lots of patience, she set about turning the dairy into a double-volume ‘contemporary barn-cumloft’, using bricks from a ruined reservoir and teak beams from a longforgotten sawmill in the forest. A balustraded mezzanine now supports an airy master bedroom and bathroom above a lounge that opens through French doors to the swan-set lake. As in Sarah’s shops, floors are screed in cement, windows draped in saris, and the furniture is a heady mix – a worn leather Chesterfield reclining comfortably beside a chintz sofa, an old table from India under a French chandelier hand strung with crystal beads. Back at the other end of the house, Sarah completely reconfigured a rabbit warren of passages, a shabby old kitchen and storerooms. ‘It all fell down when a well-meaning helper eagerly bashed down a supporting wall!’ This gave her new ideas, and her favourite spot in winter, the kitchen, evolved. ‘A chimney that was originally part of an old wood stove had been concealed above the low-slung ceiling. It’s now part of a chest-high fireplace that burns like a little furnace,’ she says. During the reconstruction, Sarah met her partner, talented North Coast landscape designer Curt Wolff. He transformed an eyesore outside the kitchen into an enchanting private French courtyard, using old Indian jalis as features, mixed with contemporary pots and weathered benches. A palace door from India now gives the kitchen access to fresh herbs, lavender and warm sunlight. Says Sarah, ‘It’s a great place to eat and entertain in winter.’ The rest of the house ‘decorated itself’, she smiles. ‘I had a basic idea, and let it evolve like a painting, just adding things I loved from my shops and my parents’ home until it felt right. It’s been a slow process, done on weekends punctuated by parties and periods of sloth in a boat on the lake. But that’s what makes it fun!’ Naughty 90s, The Storeroom and Antique Café at Churchill House, 031-303-5959. Sibon Landscapes, 082-414-3107
Sarah’s Home Truths
What I love most about winter is the warm glow from the fireplaces. The best thing about Surrey Farm is the tranquillity, the sounds of nature. My favourite room is my bathroom. I love soaking in my slipper bath beneath the crystal chandelier. I’d describe my style as quirky, colourful and contrasting. I’m inspired by everything I see! I’m very visual. When it comes to design advice, I say throw out that ‘rule book’ and don’t be afraid to mix styles, colours and materials. My most rash purchase was a gorgeous Kathy van Zeeland handbag – I slept with it on my bed for a month! These days I only want the few things that make me smile. My most inspiring place is our magnificent lake at sunset. My favourite local dining spot is Tumble Downs on the Curry’s Post Road. I want to lick my plate! This winter we’re spending weekends with friends, with hearty roasts and 60s music (we’ve no neighbours to disturb). In the mornings, housekeeper Thobi’s famous farmhouse breakfast beside a crackling kitchen fire… This article was originally featured in the June 2011 issue of House and Leisure.