A Modern Country Cottage
An old cottage in Greyton in the Western Cape is transformed into a modern country space with fresh Scandinavian lines and bright accents.
The earliest cottages in Greyton were built in the mid 1800s. Later houses retained that Victorian stamp. It’s part of the time-gone-by charm of this cosy broekie lace spot at the foot of the Cape’s Riviersonderend mountains.
On the edge of town lies Greyton’s glorious nature reserve, and it was near here that a Cape Town couple looking for a holiday house found just what they wanted, close enough to town but far enough away to be removed from noise. ‘You can sit in the garden and it’s as if you’re really in the country, the middle of nowhere,’ is how one of the new owners describes the property.
The garden was large enough for their two small children to enjoy running around in, with beautiful established oaks, cedars and lemon trees, plus a swimming pool. They didn’t want a massive house, and this one was the ideal size: one bedroom downstairs and a big loft upstairs that could be converted into two bedrooms. At the bottom of the garden was a garage they could turn into a garden cottage. The whole place had plenty of potential.
The spaces, however, were dark and closed in. The windows were small and there weren’t many doors. Unattractive tiles covered the ground floor. The loft had wooden floors covered with wall-to-wall carpeting and was only accessible via an outside staircase.
As any Greyton homeowner will tell you, renovations have to take into account the local aesthetics committee’s regulations. Its aim is to maintain the character of Greyton along the lines laid out in 1854 by Herbert Vigne, when he divided his farm Weltevreden into 120 plots for the occupants of the village he named after his brother-in-law Sir George Grey, then governor of the Cape Colony.
In keeping with local restrictions, the new owners of the house opted to keep the exterior virtually unchanged while giving the interior a graceful Nordic revamp. Scandinavian style is something they’ve always been attracted to: simplicity, clean lines, minimal ornamentation, lots of light and lots of wood, and pleasing earthy tones against an all-white background. Nordic got the thumbs up for other reasons, too: ‘Though the clean Scandinavian look is very popular at the moment, it’s simple enough not to go out of fashion and easy enough to change if you get tired of it.’
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Enter Hendre Bloem. When the owners saw how this newly qualified interior designer had restored and redecorated the beautiful old heritage building his parents had bought in the town, they got in touch with him. What they wanted was an ambience of such style, luxury and comfort that it could be let out to guests when they themselves weren’t staying there.
Together they decided to open the whole house up to give it air, light and a feeling of roominess and understated elegance. ‘Our main inspiration,’ Bloem says, ‘was the amazing trees and greenery surrounding the house and the beautiful diffused views of the mountains. Therefore, important aspects of the design were the doors, windows and skylights.’
The lounge and kitchen became open plan. The conservatory was given three cottage-pane French doors where there had been none, and became an extension of the kitchen. Downstairs, tiles were replaced with laminate flooring.
Upstairs, carpets were removed and the wooden floors were painted white. Two loft bedrooms were created, each with skylights and Juliet balconies looking onto the garden as well as freestanding baths, toilets and basins backed by white subway tiles on the walls. The old, exposed wooden roof beams were painted white like the rest of the interior and exterior of the house, and the roof was painted grey.
The garage was turned into a private garden cottage with two sets of folding stacking doors to maximise views on either side.
One of the most striking new features is the ingenious raw-steel staircase. A playful design by Bloem and constructed by the builder, its skinny steel treads appear to balance on slender steel rods. ‘This is definitely something unexpected in this style of house,’ says Bloem, ‘yet it frames the space beautifully while being quite discreet.’ He’s particularly fond of the James Mudge wall shelving used in the kitchen as open wall display and storage. ‘To me, this is a perfect fit and works well with the overall design while being a unique and iconic element.’
Furniture classics include an Eames Elliptical table in the lounge and Air armchairs by Jasper Morrison for Magis in the conservatory, while all the beds, benches, scullery units, bookshelves and many of the floating shelves throughout the house were made by engineering student Philip Montsho, who has his own cost-cutting furniture-design company. ‘We love what he’s made for us,’ says the owner. ‘It suits the Scandinavian simplicity of the house.’
Exploring the Modern Country Look With the Homeowners
What do you enjoy most about spending time in Greyton?
It’s like a little English village – welcoming and intimate. You can see horses and cows wandering around town. It’s beautiful in all seasons. In winter, it’s colder than Cape Town, but cosy. In summer, it’s warmer, but you have the swimming pool and river. Spring is amazing with all the English-style gardens. In autumn, the trees turn red and it’s just beautiful.
What is country life all about for you?
Cycling round the village with the kids on the back, lying under an oak tree with a book, or running in the reserve and stopping off at the waterfall. We believe our surroundings make a difference to the way we feel about life.
Where do you get your design inspiration?
Scandinavian blogs, Pinterest, Quaker furniture and the Japanese love of indoor–outdoor living. Our design philosophy is to keep everything streamlined. We find it easier not to collect too much. The more we have, the more we start feeling trapped.
What sums up modern and contemporary living for you?
Contemporary style tends to be less ornate, with fewer curtains and carpets, and more blinds and screeded and wooden floors. Homes have become more about what works for you. Open-plan living is better for entertaining and can involve the whole family. We’ve learned over the years to buy what we love no matter what anyone else thinks. If you love something, it will work.