On arrival at this grand home in Constantia, Cape Town, your immediate impression is of a house of baronial proportions: graceful old-world style in the most sublime sense of the term. This house, however, is just over a year old.
'We moved in last year in April,' says its owner Lauren Searll.'I bought the property in August 2012. There was a 1970s single-storey house on it and we planned to use the foundations but once we started the engineer said we needed to construct better ones. So we built from scratch.'
Having worked closely with architect Jacky Cattell for three years Lauren's vision was clear.
'I knew exactly what I wanted. A French-inspired, romantic, classic home that breathed warmth and love.' - Lauren Searll
She and her late husband Aaron Searll, the Cape Town clothing-industry magnate, used to visit the legendary Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc in Antibes in the South of France every year so it’s no surprise that stylish France is visible in her home, not only in the crystal chandeliers, ornate mirrors, French dressers and Louis XV cabriole legs that pop up everywhere but also in the special pieces such as the 19th-century French church pew in the hall and the French butcher’s rack that acts as a kitchen pot hanger.
There's French oak, too, on the floors and in the glass-fronted cabinets, while a rustic feel is maintained in the ceilings with poplar beams and exposed trusses.
You might imagine that Lauren and her two daughters – Juliette, 11, and Sophia, 10, – would rattle around in this mansion. Yet, thanks to the relatively small rooms and quietly elegant decor, it's the kind of home that wraps itself around you. It’s serene and relaxed, an effect achieved partly by muted natural colours throughout. As Lauren puts it: ‘Everything is gentle except our upstairs playroom.’
She was responsible for the decor, with the assistance of interior designer Georgina Bagg.
The calm spirit of the house is rather like that of its unflappable owner. 'I'm a very traditional person and family is the most important thing in my life,' Lauren says, 'so I want to live in a space that is completely comfortable and warm. As a Taurean I love life's luxuries so beautiful fabrics, antiques and crystal always have to feature but nothing is precious and anyone coming into my home must feel completely relaxed. Spill something or break something, it's just part of the journey.'
The French motto 'Une bonne cuisinière a besoin d’une bonne cuisine' (a good cook needs a good kitchen) was hand painted onto the splashback in Lauren Searll’s kitchen in Constantia, Cape Town, by Chinaworks. The French butcher’s rack holding the pots is from Morgan Associates.
Jacky says Lauren's brief was for a large family home with great areas for entertaining. 'The roof is broken into smaller sections so it never feels like a mansion,' explains Jacky. 'The rooms are warm and personal to reflect Lauren and her family, each designed especially for its function, although they flow into each other.'
Jacky introduced the Cape Dutch vernacular in the external chimney stack, which is of hand-tooled stone. Her smart domestic suggestions, with entertaining in mind, included the location of the drinks fridge not far from the pool, a long, thin ironing table of oak on castors so it can easily become an extra table and two dishwashers instead of one.
Landscape architect Tirzah Webb designed the French country- style garden, maximising views and screening neighbours' roofs while creating an abundance of sumptuous greenery that softens the strong lines of the house. Undulating slopes became levels and various intimate areas were established and contain urns and garden benches from Lauren’s previous home.
'The main garden required earthworks and stylising,' says Tirzah. 'We kept it simple, yet bold and dramatic like the view of the mountain. The pool and its terrace garden were positioned to be appreciated from all angles, whether braaiing outside or dining on the main veranda or in the conservatory.'
A cheerful line-up of mop-head trees leads to the front door, large troughs spill over with colourful flowering plants and water features provide a tinkling soundtrack. Naturally France pops up again in the potager. At its heart rises a small fountain column from a pool enclosed by low, square bagged-brick walls. Granadillas climb over a wooden structure surrounded by vigorously growing edible vegetation. It’s a place where Lauren can sit on a bench in the midst of fragrant foliage or pick her favourite roses.
Lauren's so content in this lovely home she says she hates having to leave it: 'I would happily spend every minute of the day here.'
Georgina Bagg Interiors, firstname.lastname@example.org; Jaclyn Cattell, email@example.com; Tirzah Webb, firstname.lastname@example.org.
This property is available for holiday rentals through Perfect Hideaways, perfecthideways.co.za.
Originally published in HL August 2015