rural revival: jacques erasmus' klein karoo sanctuary

Greg Cox

You can’t help but be drawn to the ochre-coloured gabled house on the edge of the road in a pretty Klein Karoo town under the mountains. It’s the area’s oldest inhabited home, predated only by the museum. Heart-liftingly rural in its simplicity, it has baroque-style holbol gables – that clean-cut Cape Dutch design whose wavy contours alternate between hollowed and rounded – and has been painted the same warm hue as when it was first built in 1854 by a young man for his parents.

‘When we stripped the structure to its bones, under all the limewash and paint, that first layer was a shade of ochre,’ says Jacques Erasmus, the traditionalist-minded designer who spent two years restoring the building with his partner Hein Liebenberg. This savvy and imaginative pair acquired the abode four years ago for weekends away. They named it Jonkmanshof.

WATCH: A video tour of chef Jacques Erasmus’ Karoo home
A lovingly restored 60-year-old Mercedes-Benz 220 is parked in front of the historic farmhouse in the Klein Karoo that designer Jacques Erasmus and his partner Hein Leibenberg call home. The architecture is typically Cape Dutch and includes traditional baroque-style holbol gables, which are a defining feature of South African houses of this kind built in the 1800s.

Jacques is the chef and owner of popular Cape Town restaurant Hemelhuijs, which is why for him a key part of Jonkmanshof is the kitchen. With decor inspired by the farm-style cooking area of his childhood, this one has the original rietdak ceiling and a new herringbone brick floor. In the centre is a long, rustic dining table made of reclaimed yellowwood planks. Copper pots and pans hang on the walls, salt-glaze pottery jars line the shelves, and there’s even a solid old Belgian butcher’s block – its broad surface deeply worn above the drawers where the butchers once stored their knives.

It’s the area’s oldest inhabited home, predated only by the museum, and its exterior has been painted the same warm hue as when it was first built in 1854.

‘For us, the kitchen is where everything happens,’ says Jacques. ‘Dogs lie under the table and curious chickens walk in from the coop to see if there’s anything on the floor they can peck at. It’s a place where family and friends are always welcome and where we spend time cooking, sharing impromptu meals, having serious conversations and truly experiencing the pulse of life.’

The town in which this farmhouse is situated is at the meeting point of two rivers, so there are still vegetables growing in the kitchen garden, which is enclosed by decoratively espaliered apples and quinces. An enormous old London plane tree was removed after the couple found its roots creeping up the walls inside the house, and in its place is Jacques’ collection of citrus trees.

Citrus is an obsession of Jacques’ that was first inspired by his grandfather’s orange groves in Upington, Northern Cape, and later nurtured by a visit to the celebrated Oscar Tintori Tuscan citrus nursery in Italy. Jacques now has numerous different types of citrus trees standing in large terracotta planters, all seductively arranged in elegant rows on crushed ochre-coloured gravel.

Inspired by the cooking area of Jacques’ childhood, the kitchen is an airy space, with gleaming copper accents in the form of pans from de Buyer and a row of vintage jelly moulds.

The rustic, light-filled conservatory features an impressive staghorn fern that hangs like a chandelier above potted succulents.

The interior of the house has been as nostalgically reimagined as the garden. Everything has a reason for being there: large antique tortoiseshells greet you on the entrance halls’ pale lemon-coloured walls; a giant staghorn fern hangs like a chandelier above the massed pots of rare succulents in the conservatory; and the graceful arch of white tiles in the bathroom-shower space echo the arch of the French doors opposite, which open onto the citrus garden.

‘For us, the kitchen is where everything happens,’ says Jacques. ‘Dogs lie under the table and curious chickens walk in from the coop to see if there’s anything on the floor they can peck at.’

Surrounding the Anglo-Indian wickerwork chaise longue in the midnight-blue library – aptly dubbed ‘The Room of Curiosities’ – are a host of singular treasures arranged among centuries-old books. Maasai spears, Buddhist heads and ancient Chinese ceramics jostle with fertility figurines, framed moths and a racy coco de mer (double coconut), all of which Jacques and Hein have collected on their travels or brought with them from their family homes. These objets areas intriguingly exotic as the farmhouse itself, which is not only a characterful home, but a precious piece of richly recreated heritage.  

Jacques perches on a worn Belgian butcher’s block in the kitchen area, where labradors Mayha and Maximilian love to nap.

New herringbone brick floors contrast with the original rietdak ceiling in the kitchen, and chairs from Hein’s family home are just some of the many inherited pieces that the couple have incorporated into their abode; a decorative Delft plate that was bought in Holland crowns a recently installed wall oven that is used for baking bread.

The reddish-brown living room is enhanced by a vibrant oil painting of a chimera by Mark Kannemeyer. To the right of the marble fireplace mantel is a white Fortuny floor lamp by Mariano Fortuny for Pallucco.

In the library – which has been dubbed ‘The Room of Curiosities’ – midnight-blue walls are offset by a range of antique wooden pieces, such as an ebony and beefwood East Indian cabinet the couple bought on auction, and a large desk that belonged to Hein’s father, who was a German diplomat. A wrought-iron chandelier by metal artist Simon Beebe illuminates the room, while an Anglo-Indian wickerwork chaise longue from Piér Rabe Antiques is a comfortable place from which to admire the room’s array of objets d’art.