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Majestic Cape homestead

Text Deborah Louw Styling Sven Alberding Photographs Micky Hoyle High on a vine-covered slope outside Hermanus in the Western Cape stands a majestic homestead, overlooking the reaches of the Hemel-en-Aarde valley towards the mountains in the north. This is prime wine country, kept cool by maritime breezes, favoured with good soil and protected from the wind. The vision for this estate, when winegrower Anthony Hamilton Russell took it over from his father, Timothy, in 1991 was, and remains, big. He wanted to focus on just two grape varietals – Pinot Noir and Chardonnay – and from them create world-class wines. And the homestead that he built here is appropriately amply proportioned too, with large rooms, lofty vaulted ceilings and a huge view from every window. Anthony eschewed the more traditional Cape Dutch style for two reasons: architects in the late 17th century tended not to fully take into account the South African climate when they designed estate homesteads, constructing a narrow unroofed porch and ‘plonking two oak trees in front, which didn’t work well as a sun shield and blocked the view!’ he says. And the style was not suitable for the hilltop site either. So he opted for what he calls ‘Cape Georgian’, with handsome windows, a largely flat roof and an arched loggia providing practical outdoor-living space, sheltered from the sun and the southeaster while preserving an uninterrupted view across the valley. The construction of the house took two years and exhaustive attention to detail. The project manager, he says, was sometimes stressed to the point of tears – ‘and he wasn’t the only one!’ The ground floor comprises an entrance hall, master suite, living room and kitchen. A staircase in sandblasted Namibian stone leads to the upper storey, which houses a gallery area, Anthony’s study and the office of his wife, Olive. Guest suites are generous, individually appointed and restfully private. ‘We know of at least two conceptions that have taken place in these rooms,’ smiles Anthony. The couple clearly has a passion for collecting, curating and creating things of beauty. ‘I made my first art purchase when I was 18, at an auction,’ says Anthony. ‘It was an “Adoration”, in the style of Tiepolo, and it was the catalyst for an interest in art that I’ve had ever since.’ There is art everywhere: gifts from overnighting artist friends, pieces found at auctions (‘long ago – we couldn’t afford to buy most of those today’), and special commissions. Noteworthy among these is a series of views across the valley as interpreted by different artists and rendered in various media. ‘On paper the art has value, but in reality it’s financially worthless because we wouldn’t sell it – I’d have to be down to wearing a string vest before that happened.’ There’s also room for the quirky and the unusual: from old husband-and-wife sepia photographs and a collection of rolling pins to a trio of maize grinders. ‘I’ve only been able to find a few of those, even though I regularly scour second-hand stores,’ Anthony laments. ‘Giorgio Nava (owner of Cape Town restaurants 95 Keerom Street, Carne and Caffe Milano) always seems to have got there first!’ Says Olive, herself a talented artist: ‘We can’t resist picking up things when we travel, too. We come back with very heavy cases…’ And then there are the collections: stones, Khoi stone tools, sea glass and pink mussel shells, gathered from the estate, the seashore, the mountains, and from Arniston and the caves below the Hermanus cliff path. It all amounts to a cohesive whole that looks and feels like a real, lived-in home, albeit a spectacular one. The Hamilton Russells also share enthusiasm for what lies beyond the house: the entire property is an ongoing project. There are 38 hectares of private fynbos reserve; there’s a grove of olive trees, which produces ‘a small but quality crop’; most invasive alien vegetation has been cleared; and Anthony has planted poplars and seven types of gum tree. ‘If I had to describe my spiritual ethos,’ says Anthony, ‘I’d call it animism. As well as our artworks, we love what we continually find in nature – and that’s art for free! Anthony And Olive's Home Truths My favourite artwork is an Egon Tania sculpture (Olive); the ‘Portrait of a Man’ by Gerard Sekoto – it has an uncanny ability to reflect one’s own mood, whatever that is (Anthony). The one artwork I’d love to own is a large Robert Hodgins piece (Olive); the Eduardo Villa bronze that (to me) was the heart of the Hyde Park shopping centre. I fell in love with it when I was 10 (Anthony). The artist who’s made the biggest impression on me is Zwelethu Mthethwa. He really understands humanity and engages it at a deep and real level (Olive); Geoffrey Armstrong, because I met him when I was young and impressionable. I grew up with his powerful abstract oils around me (Anthony).  When buying art, I tend to want something first and then try to find somewhere appropriate to put it! (Anthony) My own artistic aspirations find expression in painting – I find it deeply satisfying, and my friends insist I take it more seriously. One step at a time … (Olive); in landscaping and beautifying Hamilton Russell Vineyards inexpensively. The best thing about our home is that it’s a very happy place and it’s where our dogs live (Olive); that I built it (Anthony). Still on our home decor wish-list is a large round mirror to hang above the fireplace (Olive); a set of beautiful lamps for ‘warmer’ night light (Anthony). My favourite way to relax is an early-morning ride through the vineyards (Olive); with a bottle of good wine in good company with a great view (Anthony). This article was originally featured in the April 2011 issue of House and Leisure.