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cosy franschhoek cottage

Text Kim Chaloner Styling and photographs Henrique Wilding Production Assistant Blyda Malherbe Chicly attired in a floral summer dress over a signature striped Paul Smith double-cuff shirt, accented with bold vintage jewellery, Salome Gunter prepares a lunch platter bearing a deliciously oozy Camembert, freshly baked ciabatta, marinated artichokes and leafy greens. It’s apparent that the renowned designer-decorator pays attention to every detail, from her appearance to her surroundings and her culinary concoctions. As she moves around her compact country kitchen in Franschhoek – expressively regaling her guests with eventful tales about her business and her international clients, many of them longstanding, and about Willem, her husband of 26 years, and their menagerie of six beloved cats – her hands gesticulate wildly as she goes. Salome not only has impeccable taste and an eye for good quality but also has an undeniable flair for drama. Over the years the couple has lived in Simon’s Town and Riebeek-Kasteel. These days they divide their time between their heritage home in Chelsea Village in Wynberg, Cape Town, and this weekend cottage, just a stone’s throw from Franschhoek’s main Huguenot Road. Christmas and New Year is spent at their petit chateau in Monpazier in the Dordogne region in France – voted locally as one of that country’s most beautiful villages. For Salome, Franschhoek is her place and she simply can’t stay away. ‘We’ll come out to the cottage in the middle of the week… our staff tell us we’re like a couple of teenagers!’ The property belonged to their neighbour and was the barn to their farmhouse. It had been renovated 10 years before into its current format, but was still dank and dark, with an insufficient number of windows. Salome’s trusted team ‘whacked everything white’, put in new doors and windows (which they also lowered to take advantage of the incredible views) and morphed the simple stoep into a light-filled conservatory (‘the best thing we could have done to buffer against the summer winds’). To this they added a glorious garden and water fountain. They also gutted the bathroom, making it a simple, shower-only wet room. ‘You have to spend time in a space to make it special,’ says Salome. Everywhere you look, you’ll absorb an eyeful of literary inspiration, from tomes displaying the homes of the rich and famous to the legacy of Coco Chanel. Salome’s love for fabrics gives the space its distinct, perky identity, while Vivienne Westwood wallpapers in one of the bedrooms adds a decadent edge. A small oil painting on one of the living room walls was done by Salome’s mother. ‘She was an artist; she didn’t need material possessions,’ she reminisces. ‘She said to me once, “I like beautiful things and I can’t afford to buy them, but my eyes give me everything.” She encouraged us to look at flowers, and at the mountains… she gave me the ability to see beauty in life more than in anything else.’ The couple has ‘a love affair’ with Franschhoek, says Salome. ‘It’s such a joyful place. In the mornings, we’ll throw open the conservatory doors and enjoy breakfast among the visiting squirrels and the birds. Willem is always pottering around and fixing things, or we’re planting things in the garden.’ Salome and Willem enjoy visits from friends from abroad (such as a couple living in France who stayed for a month and later said how the cottage had put new life into their marriage). And they also have lots of friends based in Franschhoek: ‘We swim, eat out under the pergola and drink local wine,’ says Salome. ‘It’s small and cosy, but it’s such a happy space.’ A space, no doubt, in which to live out a life of contented joie de vivre. Salome Gunter Interiors, 

Salome's Home Truths

Summer makes me feel alive; the garden becomes green and scented. My favourite way to spend holidays here is lounging at the pool, surrounded by the Franschhoek mountains, debating which of the village’s lunchtime venues will grab our attention. When I think of great summer style I think of sipping wine under our pergola at the pool. This summer I’m planning on planting suurvy (sour fig) with its purply- pink flowers and soft, tart fruits, and climbing roses for our new pergola, which we designed to withstand the harsh midday summer sun. And designing my own range of bed linen for my bedrooms. Our plans for this house include planting big trees along the garden wall to provide a little more privacy. We’d also like to go into the roof to build a loft bedroom plus bathroom. I’ll decorate my festive tables with olive branches and linen runners from Koöperasie Stories (on the R45 road to Franschhoek). We’ll be entertaining with excellent wine, lots of salad and Weber- style chicken or lamb. I’m reading Sophie Dahl’s Voluptuous Delights. My favourite summer alfresco dishes are smoked trout and salad from the Salmon Bar deli, the best, properly ripened French cheese from La Cotte, fresh bread from Café des Arts and excellent, chilled wine from one of our local farms: Haute Espoir from Rickety Bridge and Chardonnay from Grande Provence. This article was originally featured in the December 2011 issue of House and Leisure.