IN PICTURES | This holiday home in the Klein Karoo is romantically rustic
This young family’s off-the-grid bush escape in the Klein Karoo blends a modern campaign style with Provençal sensibility
There are few things as idyllic as luxuriating in an outdoor tub in the middle of the bush, G&T in hand, quietly listening to birdsong and stridulating insects floating through the valley at dusk. For Samantha and William Mellor, this calming ritual is the essence of Cabine du Cap, their weekend bolthole hidden away in the Western Cape's Klein Karoo.
Surrounded by rugged indigenous plants and an undulating, uninhabited landscape, the bath scene resembles something out of a Sydney Pollack movie.
"It all started with a dream to have an outdoor tub," says Samantha, who carefully planned the placement of their open-air custom galvanised steel bath: just close enough to the edge of their deck to feel part of the surrounding scrub, and far enough from the roofing to have an eyeful of star-washed sky at night.
"We sometimes put on the Out of Africa soundtrack, sit in the bath and watch the sun set," she says. "It's a bit sentimental, but we embrace it."
When the couple first saw the property, located two to three hours' drive from Cape Town, just off the famous Route 62, the existing ramshackle boma was dwarfed by its majestic environment. "It was really just a piece of land. The boma was falling apart, but it was the first place we looked at and we could see its potential," Samantha says.
The couple, their three-year-old daughter, Francesca, and chocolate brown Labrador, Lacoste, started visiting on weekends, travelling up a precarious road to the boma, where they'd spend days improving the infrastructure and nights listening to the sounds of nearby wildlife.
"The first thing we needed to address was the connectivity," says William, who installed single-battery solar panels to ensure they had Wi-Fi. "There's this fantasy of being totally disconnected - no cellphone signal, nothing - but that's not realistic when you have a baby and there are scorpions in the area. When we want to switch off, we simply turn off the Wi-Fi. We've kept our footprint light - we use gas, solar power and rainwater. It is totally off the grid."
William is the founder and CEO of 2oceansvibe.com, so he doesn't often get the chance to switch off. The website reflects Cape Town's laid-back lifestyle with its "Work is a sideline. Live the holiday" tagline, and grew from blog to multimedia news and marketing platform within a few years.
He has also joined forces with Samantha, and the couple now heads up the du Cap Collection sub-brand, a group of France-meets-Africa-inspired properties that are available for holiday rental, and a cafe and boutique in Cape Town's city bowl serving country-style fare alongside furniture and fashion finds from France. Cabine du Cap is the latest to join the stable.
Samantha and William are Francophones at heart, and their vision for Cabine was inspired by the Provencal countryside, particularly the lavender-swathed village of Luberon where they were married. When they melded this look with the campaign look typical of contemporary safari getaways and a quintessential bushveld vernacular, the Mellors uncovered their signature aesthetic.
"The three themes work really well together," says William. Samantha agrees: "When you go for walks at the cabin it's a lot like being in the south of France. They are our two favourite areas."
To articulate this vision in a small, run-down cabin was going to take some work, so they asked local builder Stephen Butler to oversee the renovation. "We fell in love with a material called Rhino wood because of how it blends into the setting," Samantha says. This was used for the decking, expanding the living space, and integrating the cabin with its environment. Butler also created a stone-walled fireplace - "an essential addition for winter nights", William says. Yet no matter how cold it gets, the warmth imbued by the Rhino wood, which extends from the deck to indoor floors, walls and ceiling, takes the edge off.
The interiors were Samantha's domain as she worked in the retail industry for years. Collections of vintage suitcases and bird motifs are found throughout the cabin, together with game skulls and a taxidermy springbok head mounted above the fireplace - reminding visitors to keep an eye out for game on the property with Rhebok and Klipspringer often sighted in the early morning.
The couple is resourceful when it comes to finding special pieces, scouring classified ads and auctions, and making use of family hand-me-downs. For Samantha, inspiration came in many forms: movies ("I love that house in Out of Africa"), French markets, and the towers of decor publications and journals she surrounds herself with. However, nothing was as influential as the land itself and so a neutral, earthy palette mimics the semi-arid Karoo landscape, and books about the plants and birds found in the area pack the shelves.
"What's really been amazing is how much we've learnt about birds and the bush - we can actually name some of the plant species," says Samantha, who delights in pointing out a nearby botterboom to family visiting from Europe. The pair love the fynbos that covers the Karoo, admiring its changing seasonal hues, from yellow to red and then a purple haze of Ericas in the cooler months. They're also taking note of weather patterns and teaching Francesca about it all.
"At night, the stars take you aback. I know it sounds like a cliche," William concedes, "but you don't really get it until you're there: it's completely silent; the moon is like a spotlight. You stand there and all your troubles go away."
• Styling Sven Alberding/Bureaux.