News and Trends

The Slow Lane

Text Leigh Robertson Styling Julia Stadler, Sven Alberding Photographs Russell Smith For a South African hotel-industry executive based in Dubai,whose adult children are scattered from London to Melbourne, there’s no better place for spirited family reunions or a muchneeded spell of R&R than at a warm and inviting farm-style house in the Little Karoo hamlet of Montagu. Although Richard Weilers and his wife, Karen, only manage visits to their country retreat two or three times a year, with everyone congregating there at Christmas, it is, he says, their ‘dream home’. Located on historical Church Street, a tranquil strip dotted with heritage houses and with a sweeping mountain backdrop, the Weilers’ home is not just an elegantly laid-back retreat where the couple can catch up on reading and enjoy cosy sessions beside the central fireplace during the chilly Montagu winters. The house is also imbued with added character and soul by virtue of its colourful past. It had been the home of respected artist Clive Biden, which he had sensitively converted into a capacious single dwelling from two Freemason halls built circa 1929. When it came onto the market, Richard, who already owned the neighbouring house – a national monument previously belonging to another well-known artist, Francois Krige – immediately snapped it up. ‘I’d always wanted a house with scale,’ he says. Jo’burg-based interior architectural designer David Muirhead was enlisted to decorate the interior spaces in addition to linking the two houses – respectfully named Krige House and Biden House by Richard, a keen art appreciator – by means of a walkway and garden. ‘I’d worked with David on a number of hotel projects before,’ explains Richard. ‘David evolves his ideas with you and what you get is an amazingly beautiful but, more importantly, a livable environment.’ With his client back in Dubai, David set about developing the newly acquired Biden House into ‘a relaxed family home that was suitably chic and comfortable’. On seeing the property for the first time, he was impressed by ‘the wonderful volumes and proportions of the rooms – I loved it for its sense of authenticity and scale.’ Working with the existing architecture, David and his team merely ‘added to the farmhouse appeal of the property – and we were lucky to find lovely fireplace details and architraves.’ Having been given complete creative licence, David’s starting point was beautiful wallpaper he’d sourced from St Leger & Viney and Halogen International, ‘adding either a lightness needed in some of the darker spaces or a dramatic sense of contrast’. His choice of furnishings was geared to providing the utmost sense of ease and tasteful informality, with pieces upholstered in classic neutrals or accents of blues and browns ‘to visually accommodate the transition from extreme winters to very hot summers’. When Richard and Karen saw the completed home for the first time, they were overjoyed. ‘The inside living areas are magical, while the outside integration with Krige House allows us to have different dining experiences around the property,’ says Richard, who looks forward to longer sojourns at this gateway to the Little Karoo in the future. Time spent here is all about enjoying the slower pace, taking in the splendid natural surrounds and getting to know the neighbours – though you might also find this avid car enthusiast kicking up some dust in his cherished Mustang on the main drag or along the spectacularly scenic Route 62 with its vineyards and towering mountain ranges. ‘The house is calm and peaceful in its aesthetic, and has a soul all of its own,’ muses David. ‘But then, homes tend to take on the spirit of their owners, which is why the overall mood of Biden House is so very uplifting!’ David Muirhead and Associates, davidmuirhead.com

RICHARD’S HOME TRUTHS

  • What I love most about Montagu is its people; they have time for each other, and are friendly, kind and helpful.
  • My favourite room is the dining room with its 20-seater table, antique sideboards and fantastic art. It also has an amazing fireplace and high timber ceilings.
  • The best way to keep warm in winter is by the fireside with a good book and a beautiful red wine from the Robertson Valley.
  • I love, and am a great supporter of, SA art, especially artists such as Hendrik Pierneef, Errol Boyle, Gerald Benga – and Francois Krige and Clive Biden. I collect Harley-Davidsons (I have six!) and old bakkies – in particular, Fords. I love books and am currently reading a beautiful quick read, An Hour to Live, An Hour to Love, by Richard and Kristine Carlson – to get a better perspective on what’s important in life.
  • The soundtrack to a perfect weekend would depend on my mood; it could vary from classical to Lynyrd Skynyrd.
  • My favourite travel destination is Scotland in the middle of winter – short days and long nights, and people with great character. But my most inspiring place is none other than Montagu, with Cape Town a close second.
This article was originally published in the June 2010 issue of House and Leisure.