Going Dutch: Contemporary Living in Franschhoek

Text Graham Wood
Photographs Greg Cox / Bureaux
Production Jeanne Botes 

In the Cape winelands of South Africa, this house takes references from traditional Cape Dutch architecture and creates a contemporary new order… with a vineyard and a gin garden.

Franschhoek is known for some of the most beautiful winelands and valleys in the world. With a strong French heritage dating back more than 300 years, new homes often mimic Provençal and sometimes Italian influences.

House Barnhouse, Franschhoek
The dining room has a high volume with fluted concrete ceilings cast with sandblasted timber planks, which leave their imprint and a beautiful natural finish – a way of inviting nature inside. The lofty volume helps to regulate the temperature, keep the interiors cool in summer. Architect Martin Kruger has devised a simple but ingenious natural ventilation system that draws warm air up through the clerestory windows (the fin-like details at the tops of the walls also assist ventilation) and cool air in from below. The natural stone wall in the dining room is made with stones found on the site. It also helps regulate the temperature naturally, acting as a barrier against the heat during the day, but releasing embodied warmth at night. The dining table, chairs and Cantilever Sideboard in black stained oak and brass and ceramics were all sourced from Ebony/Curated, with hanging “Pear Orchard Meets Fynbos” piece by Gabrielle Kruger.

The owner of this winelands home wanted a chic, contemporary take on traditional Franschhoek architecture, and had a clear vision and comprehensive brief for the architect, Martin Kruger. It’s very much a working house – made for entertaining, relaxing and appreciating nature. “The vision was driven very much by the way I like to live,” says the owner. “I love having friends to stay, cooking together and listening to great music, but I also appreciate the tranquillity of the village and the calm of this beautiful art-filled space.”

House Barnhouse, Franschhoek
The kitchen is housed in a niche in the thick stone wall – the back of the one facing the dining room. The screen can cover up the recessed part of the kitchen and slide over to close off the arches leading to the dining room and lounge. The combination of oak and dark joinery is picked up in details such as the lighting, with its copper-lined pendants, taps and appliances. The kitchen stools in ebonized oak are from Ebony/Curated.
House Barnhouse, Franschhoek
The sitting room features a suspended fireplace in keeping with the more modern, industrial design language on this side of the house. The roof here features double timber beams, which talk to the traditional thick beams used in traditional Cape Dutch architecture without slavish (and inauthentic) imitation. The honed concrete floors are warmed with a Nguni hide rug from Ebony/Curated and Shany van den Berg’s artwork.

The owner had, as she puts it, “kissed a lot of frogs” in her long search to find this idyllic spot, not far from the village. It was a pear orchard – hence the name “Le Poirier”, the place of pears, with a stream running through it, mature oak trees and incredible mountain views.

She was very clear that she wanted a design in which “architecture, interiors and landscape design were completely integrated”. She had a vision of a house surrounded by gardens, vines, veggies, fruit and olive trees and fragrant fynbos, all to be reflected in the choice of art and interior palettes, too. She was after a sense of “connectedness” with the environment.

House Barnhouse, Franschhoek
The vineyard in the main courtyard, hugged by the house’s two wings, is planted with vines. “Half of the grapes are Chenin, and the other half are Shiraz, my favourite varietals,” says the owner. “Eventually we’ll make wine, but the grapes are too immature, so we made grape juice with the first crops.”

It’s evident that architect and client were on the same page with the project from the start. The design went through a thorough design process, and the result is a building where the house fits seamlessly into the cultural landscape and architectural traditions of Franschhoek.

The house has two personalities – the south-facing entrance references a Cape Dutch manor house, wrapped around a farmyard or “werf” with a vineyard. From here the house has “a Cape vernacular quality”, albeit a sleek-lined contemporary take. “Then, to the other side, facing the river, it opens up so that you can see the view of the mountain, which is quite spectacular,” says Martin.

House Barnhouse, Franschhoek
The “Winter” bathroom, like the bedroom on the eastern side of the house, features a darker variation on the palette of greys and neutral tones. The winter wing is positioned to catch the morning sun during the cold months and looks out over trees and surrounding mountains.
House Barnhouse, Franschhoek
The “Winter” bedroom on the east side of the house is positioned to catch the morning sun during the cold months. The room is designed around a central fireplace. The colour palette of charcoal, dark grey textured wallpaper, and heavy lined curtains create a more dramatic, cosier atmosphere than its summer counterpart. Artwork of nude, “Glow”, is by Lindsay Patton.

The riverside of the house has a more modernist, industrial design language, reflecting some of the cues from the owner’s time living in New York, although continuing its dialogue with Cape Dutch architecture in other ways.