Capetonian interior designer Etienne Hanekom took a somewhat derelict Victorian country home and transformed it into an enigmatic and super-cool weekend escape
Much of the Victoria era was about being rather prim and certainly very proper, and, other than the ‘fripperies’ of lace-patterned iron-mongered trims, homes built in South Africa during this era tend to follow a definite plan and style without digressing from the architectural norms of the time.
Rural towns are full of examples of these Victorian homes and, for the most part, they’re viewed with fond nostalgia, with many since restored to their former glory, filled with gleaming antiques and Persian rugs.
For interior designer Etienne Hanekom, that’s the last thing he envisaged for the down-at-heel Victorian dame he discovered in Robertson, a country town situated an hour and a half from Cape Town, where he lives and works. ‘I discovered the house by mistake. I was looking for a weekend place and a project and had been to see another house in the town which I didn’t like, but on my way out of town I spotted her’, he says.
Etienne’s soon-to-be project was in a bit of a state: ‘she was uncared for – a pretty lady with a bit of a windswept and sunburnt old face. She needed a lift.’
And lift her he did. From a staid space with some bad additions – ‘the hideous 70s’ boundary wall was one of the first things to go’ – Etienne has transformed his lucky country find into a dramatic and rather enchanting space where friends congregate for food and wine-fuelled weekends and a chance to catch their breath in inspired surrounds.
No stranger to major interior projects, brave refurbishments and out-the-box home, retail and hotel rethinks, Etienne applied his know-how and his somewhat devil-may-care attitude to this home, turning things on their head. ‘I turned the house’s focus right around’, he says.
‘I find it so interesting that in those days houses were designed for everything to happen in the front – there were three doors leading to the front step and just one door leading out to the back, the area I now love the most. People want to be a lot more private these days, so I opened the house up at the back and created a huge stoep [veranda] with glassed doors leading onto the garden, a braai [barbecue] area and a pool.’
The house is a u-shape with four bedrooms in total, two on the left and two on the right hand side of the front passage. The kitchen, which would have been tucked away at the back of the house originally, is now in the middle of the home, as is the lounge – they face each other.
But the heart of the home is the semi-covered, sprawling stoep filled with oversized chairs, flowering plants, collectables and conversation starters. It’s here that friends congregate on weekends, piling in on a Friday afternoon and dragging themselves back to town come Sunday evening. ‘This space is crucial to the wellbeing of the house. It’s where we live, drink, swim, sleep and laugh on weekends’, says Etienne.
From an interiors perspective and true to form, Etienne’s Victorian home is anything but conformist. ‘My original theme was ashes to ashes and dust to dust, but I tried to bring in light tones and it didn’t work’, he explains, ‘so my palette is black and grey for the outside with muddy charcoal tones inside and pops of colour here and there.
‘For the kitchen area, where we knocked things out, I brought in some pink’, he continues. The salmon pink is indeed an unexpected surprise in this moody, shadowy space and offers a snapshot into the quirky character that Etienne pours into all of his projects.
There’s a certain sense of opulence here too, thanks to the layers of interior details, from patterned wallpaper, some of it sparkly, to pressed ceiling panels used as wall coverings, wide architraves and glittering chandeliers. And, of course, taxidermied trophies aplenty.
There is a gallery wall of ‘family portraits’ picked up in local junkshops, including one of HRH Queen Elizabeth II, and another of kitsch landscape prints. There’s even a golden garden gnome who hangs out on the back stoep.
Another surprise in Etienne’s home is the grown-up ‘dorm room’ where three single poster beds are the overnight digs for singleton sleepovers. And, as with the rest of the house, it’s the unexpected juxtapositions that do the talking here too – embellished Victorian sconces are mounted above beds clad with graphic black and white blankets, while Springbok trophy heads keep watch over their charges.
It’s clear that, when it comes to interiors and certainly his own space, Etienne follows no rules – and therein lies the marvellous magic!
Words: Vicki Sleet Styling: Sven Alberding Photography: Warren Heath/Bureaux