A Cape Wineland’s farmhouse is restored to its rustic yet grand origins


Show caption Dutch courage: Babylonstoren’s Owners’ House and garden, where 300 varieties of edible and medicinal plants are grown. Photograph: Bureaux Interiors A Cape Wineland’s farmhouse is restored to its rustic yet grand origins An 18th-century home in South Africa has been returned to its traditional Cape Dutch style Sally Rutherford Sun 6 Feb 2022 09.30 GMT Share on Facebook

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The air, heavy in the late afternoon sunshine, hums with the work of the bees in Babylonstoren’s garden of Eden. Here, owners Karen Roos and Koos Bekker grow more than 300 varieties of edible or medicinal plants in the extraordinary gardens inspired by the farms that supplied ships passing the Cape of Good Hope in the 17th century, when the farm was first established.

Today, the werf (farmyard) and its structures remain among the finest unspoilt examples of traditional Cape Dutch architectural styles. In this positively utopian setting in South Africa’s Cape Winelands, the Owners’ House – the Babylonstoren estate’s principal home – is irresistible. Roos’s deft touch and nuanced appreciation of tradition are unmistakable in the simplicity of her homestead, which has been not so much restored as fully reinvigorated.

Hearth beat: the kitchen with thick stone walls, a huge refectory table and a chandelier made from a wine-bottle drier. Photograph: Bureaux

The farmhouse itself dates back to 1777. When Roos, the former editor of South Africa’s Elle Decoration, and Bekker, a telecoms billionaire, first bought Babylonstoren, one of its many attractions was the fact that the house had never been restored. The most recent work, in fact, dated back to 1931 when a Victorian renovation to remove the gables was undone and the gables replaced.

Roos supervised the painstaking removal of 23 layers of paint to reveal the original ochre-hued wall paint

The couple – who also own the Newt in Somerset, a magnificent, newly restored 300-acre hotel and estate – have long had a commitment to authenticity. In the sitting room at Babylonstoren, for example, Roos supervised the painstaking removal of 23 layers of paint to reveal the original ochre-hued brown wall paint finely edged with stripes of teal, cream and dark brown. The colours were exactly matched and the room carefully repainted. “It has the benefit of downplaying the heaviness of the dark wood built-in cupboards that the Dutch loved so much,” says Roos. “They have the potential to be overwhelming if the walls are whitewashed, but here they just melt in with the original wall colour.”

The sitting room – with its contemporary linen, leather and steel furnishings that meld seamlessly with the 240-year-old structure – is cool and calm,

and forms the crossbar of the home’s traditional H-structure. As such, it has doors linking to the two perpendicular rear wings of the house. To the left is the door leading to the main bedroom suite and to the right is the kitchen.

Deft touch: Karen Roos. Photograph: DOOK/Bureaux

Throughout the home original fittings have been reconditioned to their original splendour – worn flagstones polished to a high gloss, and wide yellow-wood floorboards, ceiling beams, wooden windows and sills set deep into the thick clay-brick walls all restored.

Despite the grand heritage of Babylonstoren, this is unmistakably a farmhouse. Much of the action takes place in the kitchen, with its huge open hearth and enormous refectory table. There’s an Aga gas hob and wood-burning stove and the kitchen chandelier – made from an antique wine-bottle drier – is rustic yet contemporary.

Salvaged sink: the double marble basin in the bathroom. Photograph: Bureaux

While the sitting room and bedrooms are the essence of comfortable, traditional minimalism, the library-cum-study (voorkamer) is a room of wonder. Cabinets are filled with collections and objets, from shards of pottery dug up on the farm and original VOC Delftware to massive ammonites and an encyclopaedic collection of butterflies. When it’s time for a rest, a scarlet-covered couch is the perfect place for an afternoon nap in front of the fireplace.

Southern comfort: flagstone flooring in the sitting room, which has been painted in its original colours. Photograph: Bureaux

The floor-to-near-ceiling-high windows in the voorkamer are typical of Cape Dutch homes. The windows are deep-set, revealing the thickness of the stone and clay-brick walls built to withstand the intense heat in summer. The curvaceous Norman Cherner vintage chair is perfectly at home in this eclectic yet cohesive space.

The magnificent wetroom evokes spa-like Edwardian bathrooms. The marble double basin and taps are from a salvage building yard, the mirror was custom made, and the rainshower is from Axor. The glass-and-wood display cabinet from a junk shop is filled with a vignette of bathroom luxuries reminiscent of an old-school apothecary.

It is fitting that this home, which has been continuously occupied for 240 years, is no stiff museum piece. Its interiors pay tribute to its traditional heritage, but it is Karen’s appreciation for contemporary aesthetics that brings the Owners’ House to life. The ensuite bathrooms are a wonderful example of this. Individual in style, they evoke a grand era of Edwardian spas and the lavish luxury of indoor plumbing. You can just imagine splashing about in the massive circular bath or languishing under the rain shower in the wetroom.

All in all, Babylonstoren’s principal home is a living, fresh celebration of Cape Dutch style.