When it comes to impulse buys, Hong Kong-based British interior designer Anji Connell is in a different class. Her gotta-have-it moment came in 2016 after a week-long holiday in South Africa, and took the form of this 10-year-old thatched house in Franschhoek, in the Winelands, about an hour’s drive from Cape Town.
“We’d had a fabulous week, tried everything and loved it, and had heard about Franschhoek so we stopped off on our way to the airport,” Connell says. “I was in an art gallery and my husband, Barry, was looking at the window of an estate agent next door. He called me over and asked if I liked this house. We arranged an immediate viewing – we had just 15 minutes before we had to leave to catch the plane. The house was perfect, so we bought it. It was complete madness.”
Several months later, it was a nervous Connell who returned to the house, on a 10,000 sq ft plot, wondering whether it would look as good as they’d remembered. “But we got there and I thought, ‘Oh my God, it’s gorgeous. Phew!’” she says.
The architecture of the three-bedroom, two-bathroom, single-storey, L-shaped house nods to the area’s Cape Dutch heritage, with high gables, a thatched roof and deep verandas. Inside, whitewashed walls butt against high wooden roof beams and exposed thatch. Small windows and thick walls keep temperatures cool in summer – without the need for air conditioning in the living areas – and warm in winter. Each bedroom overlooks its own perfect piece of garden, with a private stoep (veranda) for the master suite.
“It really isn’t my kind of house at all. I like modern and this is more French country. The previous owners had built several houses but lived in this one,” Connell says. “He was a builder and she was a gardener and had a designer plan the garden.”
Although there was no structural work to be done, Connell quickly set about making her mark, lending a contemporary edge to the rusticity.
“This is the first time I’ve ever had exposed kitchen appliances, not built-in, so I had to hide them [behind a pretty curtain]. But that is about it.”
For now, at least. She is already drawing up renovation plans, which include adding a stoep to the back of the house, and converting the garage into a chill-out room by the pool, with a new roof terrace above it and a double garage to be built on the driveway.
Connell’s interiors makeover got off to a rocky start. “It’s not that easy to find things there, particularly lighting, so I brought over a few lamps in my luggage,” she says. She also ended up shipping a few pieces of furniture from her home in Hong Kong, and buying the outdoor furniture from the original house owners, who threw in a couple of rattan sofas, linen, cutlery and a kettle.
To bring a little zing to the whitewashed walls, Connell added murals and colourful paintings by local artists and citrus-hued furniture.
“I had to abandon my plan for a grown-up grey colour scheme. I was sabotaged – the colour just crept in,” Connell says. “I bought all the art in the first week. I had no chairs, but I had all this great art.”
It was the walled garden that really won Connell’s heart. Surrounding the house on all sides, it features a parterre, courtyard swimming pool, 10-year-old topiary, water features and a huge viburnum hedge.
“The garden is so beautiful – it was the reason we bought the house,” she says. “It’s well known in the area because the previous owners held open days. I call it my incredibly tiny Versailles.”
Although a landscape designer herself, Connell is away for most of the year, so leaves it in the capable hands of a gardener who worked for the previous owners. Keeping it in tip-top shape has been a challenge, however, because of a long-running drought.
“At Christmas, the government announced the taps would run dry in April. That didn’t happen, but it scared people into really conserving water,” Connell says. “Our big project has been to dig a 100-metre-deep borehole to access water – we had a water diviner come round – so now we are self-sufficient.”
But the biggest pleasure of settling into their African home has been the warmth of the welcome.
“We’re really happy there,” Connell says. “After we bought the house, I made two friends on Instagram and they offered to introduce me to designers and makers. On that first trip back we met up, then we met friends of theirs, and then we had a party for 38 people, all new friends made in less than a week. People are so friendly and welcoming and sociable. Great weather, great food, great wine. I love it.”
Courtyard “The weather is perfect for outdoor living; you can leave soft furnishings outside without worrying that they will mould,” Anji Connell says. The Swimming Girl sculpture is by South African artist Marieke Prinsloo-Rowe. The ottoman came from a shop in Shenzhen. The Mauna loungers (2,950 rand [US$241] each, plus 1,250 rand for each cushion) were from Patio Warehouse.
Living room To balance the bespoke blue-red-and-white cupboard (HK$12,000; Choi Designs, 4/F, 43 Queen’s Road East, Wan Chai, tel: 2866 6816), Connell commissioned Cape Town artist Wayne Bks to paint a mural around the door to the master suite. The Lazytime Plus sofa (HK$26,800) came from Camerich, in Shenzhen.
The concrete Sempre stools (1,610 rand each) were from Weylandts. The table lamps (HK$3,900 each) and ceiling lamp (HK$6,750) all came from Marsden, in Shenzhen. The yellow armchair (18,900 rand) was from The New Modernist, in Cape Town.
The table lamp next to the fireplace consists of a base Connell found at T he Old Biscuit Mill in Cape Town and a shade covered in a fabric called Waterlilies, by David Bellamy. The print by the door, titled Ana, is by Richard Scott. The recycled-metal antelope head (3,950 rand) came from a Franschhoek craft market.
Living room detail The coffee table (13,950 rand) and vases (295 rand each) were from Weylandts, in Cape Town. The graphic painting, by Hugh Byrne, and the portrait, Letitia Profile, by Gary Stephens, were from Everard Read Gallery, in Franschhoek.
Study The built-in desks and shelving came with the house. The chair was 3,750 rand from Abode, in Cape Town. The stool was from Ark Afrika (44A Huguenot Street, Franschhoek, tel: 27 21 876 2104). The “Barry” artwork is by Connell; the pink prints on the top left shelves are by Yayoi Kusama; the face vase was from Lane Crawford; the plates are by Ana Kuni; and the fish painting is by Hong Kong-based graffiti artist Szabotage. The Hong Kong taxi sign is from a shop in Wan Chai that has since closed.
Dining room The Sempre concrete dining table (29,500 rand) was from Weylandts. The dining chairs were found on Alibaba and cost US$250 each. The ceramic tealight holders were 450 rand each from Africa Nova (72 Waterkant Street, Cape Town, tel: 27 21 425 5123).
The vase, by Carin Dorrington, came from Ebony/Curated, in Franschhoek. Last year’s pink Christmas tree (600 rand; Ark Afrika) seems to have found a permanent home in the dining room. The floor lamp (6,900 rand) was from Pezula, in Cape Town, and the print is by Richard Scott. The ceiling light fixture from Marsden is the same as before.
Kitchen The kitchen came with the house, although Connell added the curtains to hide the washing machine and drier. The vintage Coca-Cola box was from an antiques shop in Kalk Bay, South Africa. The print, Surveillance West, by Karin Miller, came from Manzart Gallery, in Franschhoek.
Guest bedroom The bright and airy guest bedroom opens onto the stoep. The Spati four-poster bed (13,950 rand) and bedside table (3,950 rand) are both from Weylandts. The table lamp was HK$1,970 from Indigo Living.
Stoep The mural is by Wayne Bks. The hanging chair (4,500 rand) was from Abode. The recliners and coffee table were bought from the house’s previous owners.
Water feature A new 100-metre-deep borehole feeds several water features around the garden, including this concrete trough with lion spout peeking out from a wall of climbing fig. The rattan armchair was bought locally.
Garden In the parterre, neat box hedges surround beds of catnip. A rosemary hedge separates the formal garden from the pool area. In the background, lemon trees shade a circular pond and topiary spheres.
Tried + tested
Model art “I saw Ana Kuni’s work on my first night in Cape Town after buying the house. I met up with an Instagram friend at a restaurant called Shio, which had a mural I loved,” Anji Connell says.
So the Hong Kong-based interior designer contacted the artist, a Ukrainian model living in Cape Town, and commissioned her to paint a mural on the wall of her guest bedroom. “This is very much her signature style; I knew I was getting an Ana Kuni head.
Connell furnished the room with a Husk bed by Patricia Urquiola for B&B Italia. The bedside table was bought on holiday in Hermanus, South Africa, and the Perth table lamp (HK$1,990) was from Indigo Living.