Open House

Text Deborah Louw Styling Roger Mann Photographs Naashon Zalk Drive deep into the Constantia valley south of Cape Town, where the city sprawl gives way to vine-covered slopes and stretches of unspoilt nature, and you’ll understand why the area attracts people who flourish in a tranquil place. People like entrepreneur, epicure and nature enthusiast Di Botha, the owner of Black Book Caviar, South Africa’s only certified importer of caviar. Fresh from an arduous eight-day horseback trek from Damaraland to the Namibian coast, Di radiates a quiet centredness as she talks of the elements of her life that have found a home here. ‘I had wanted to scale down a bit,’ she says with a wry smile, recounting how she went in search of a property that was smaller than her previous home in Hohenhort’s green belt, but which could still accommodate her adult children– son Tyler and daughter Simone – as well as her horses and several Irish setters. She came across an unprepossessing, unkempt house encircled by ugly paving that had no regard for its environment. But it nevertheless had an energy that Di found seductive. And there was plenty of space, made interesting by the land’s contours, well-established trees, a vista of mountains beyond and some of Constantia’s most famous wine estates as neighbours. She bought it, and then, overnight, buyer’s remorse struck. In despair she called her good friend, architect Johann Slee, who urged her to wait out the winter and made a few suggestions to make it habitable in the meanwhile. So she demolished all the interior dry walls, tore up the carpets and stripped out the pink-and-silver bathroom tiling. Next to go was the paving, which she methodically replaced with an abundance of indigenous plants and shrubs. Even though ‘nothing ever worked to plan’, over the next two years her initial gut-feel was vindicated. Timber-framed glass sliding doors replaced solid brick walls and small windows. Four poky bedrooms became three spacious ones.  Di liberated the narrow enclosed staircase, turning it into an open, generously proportioned design feature that leads to the upstairs studio-office that she shares with her partner, artist-photographer Athol Moult. Today the house blends seamlessly into its surroundings. The entire ground floor is softened by a ‘fringe’ of wooden decks, onto which every room opens, bathrooms included, while interior and exterior walls are dressed in dramatic earthy hues that provide a powerful backdrop for the vivid artworks inside and bursts of greenery outside. Di’s eye for expressive contrast is evident in strong colour accents – in a deep-orange lamp shade, an explosively colourful poster, a bright-blue bathroom cupboard and huge, shiny black storage boxes in the dressing room. It’s a home that reflects the diverse accomplishments and interests of its residents. There’s a gracious Bechstein baby grand piano; a boules court; cookery books; and work-in-progress sketches juxtaposed with Oriental carpets, gigantic photographs (predominantly by Athol) and artworks by Norman Catherine and Jacobus Kloppers. Everything has a story: Di bought a painting by Rupert Bathurst to celebrate Tyler’s participation in the 2006 Winter Olympics (he’s a bob skeleton athlete). The enormous Argentinian workbench in the hallway is sometimes pressed into service for Athol’s canvases. The old coil-spring mattress that hangs, or floats, jauntily from a peg above the swimming pool was picked up on a roadside. (The couple used to drive past it on holiday weekends up the West Coast until one day Athol stopped the car to claim it.) The energy that Di sensed on her first visit is especially palpable on the home’s two patios, one opening into the indigenous garden and the other, ‘where we really live,’ leading off the kitchen. Bordered by an orchard of citrus trees, it’s perfectly suited for Di’s frequent and enthusiastic entertaining. All the furniture in the open-plan living area has been designed to be moved outdoors at the first hint of a party. ‘Very early in the morning’ is Di’s favourite time, on her deck overlooking the lawn and paddock, a cup of tea in one hand and the family pets at her side. You get the very strong feeling that there are many more stories to come.

Di's Home Truths

The best thing about living here is seeing only vineyards and mountains. My favourite outdoor activity is anything spontaneous that connects me with the people I care for. I’m inspired by nature. I feel a growing connectedness to it and as a result lean towards living my life as closely to nature as possible – in my home, in my habits and in my journey through what remains of my life. I don’t really differentiate between ‘down’ and ‘up’ time.  Some years ago I made one life rule: don’t do anything that goes against your grain. I’m lucky to work at doing things I aspire to doing, with people whom I choose and with the intention of benefiting others. On my bedside table is a diverse collection. I seek out anything that supports my current interest at the time – from favourite authors like John le Carré to Sanskrit philosophies, biographies, travelogues, psychology... Oh! And always my monthly Vanity Fair! When it comes to entertaining I threw the ‘recipes’ away ages ago – now it’s simply ‘from the heart’. On my still-to-do list for the house is to turn the lower paddock into a vegetable garden and cull the contents of the garage, turn it into an art studio and connect the new garage to the house so I don’t wet the shopping arriving home on a typical Western Cape winter’s day. My best holidays are those I’ve spent with my children. Also special are those that have altered my perspective in some way, like in Kashmir –understanding the scope of challenges they face as a nation under some 20 years of Indian occupation. Di Botha,; Athol Moult,   This article originally appeared in the October 2010 issue of House and Leisure.