An Unexpected Treasure
There’s a house in the oldest suburb in the second-oldest town in South Africa, set back from a quiet broad street, and approached by a paved pathway across a generous stretch of well-tended lawn. It’s on the banks of the Eerste River and it’s at least 80 years old. How much more authentically Stellenbosch, home to several centuries of history and establishment, can you get? As you enter the house, beneath its pitched 1920s roof, you’d be forgiven for expecting a traditional voorkamer, perhaps, or a long passageway, off which various small, low-ceilinged rooms might lead. Instead a large, cool, exotic interior opens up to greet you – dark-grey walled, with high ceilings and a seamless expanse of screeded flooring – punctuated by objets, striking furnishings, and modern and antique artworks. A collector lives here.
‘We’d bought the house a while ago, largely as a rental investment,’ she explains, ‘but when we thought about it, it suddenly made sense for us to live here ourselves.’Good schools (a bike ride away), the sunshine and the sports, plus the proximity of Michele’s parents in the town, combined to spur a major transformation of the property into the new family home. Cognisant of the house’s 1920s heritage, and wanting to retain as much of its authentic structure as possible, Michele commissioned local architect Rick Stander to modernise it while staying respectful of its ‘shell’. The main changes, apart from one addition – the porch entrance – took place inside. The original rooms were small and dark, so many of the interior walls were demolished; windows were enlarged; the high ceilings revealed. The ‘spine’ of the house – long and narrow – was opened up and is now one expansive living-dining area, extending back towards the partially open kitchen-scullery at the rear. ‘The hardest part of the renovations was living in London and doing them “remotely”, but luckily I could leave my very capable father in charge,’ she says.