House Tour

IN PICS | Historic Cape home oozes character courtesy of its vintage décor

With an aptitude for poetic styling and a keen eye for collectibles, Bernie Diedericks' home in Villiersdorp is rich in expression

21 March 2021 - 00:02
By Mila Crewe-Brown
The kitchen's cabinetry comes in the form of loose units and mismatched, worn cabinets.
Image: Elsa Young/Bureaux The kitchen's cabinetry comes in the form of loose units and mismatched, worn cabinets.

There's an air of poetry and depth in gathered homes that branded items and mono-store interiors cannot touch. The act of choosing consciously and collecting with time is deliberate and mindful and totally unaffected by trends.

For collector and homeowner Bernie Diedericks, former owner of The Treasury, a much-loved vintage store in Cape Town's gentrified Woodstock neighbourhood, it's this slow-consumerism approach that informs his style. Ironically, it's also the threat of clutter on both home and mind that rein it in.

Here, among the wooden cabinets, bleached skulls and blemished tables, there's an equilibrium that's afforded by Diedericks's contempt for disorder and what he deems to be "too much".

"I have to be very restrained, I have loads of ornaments, but they're tucked away in trunks. Sure, it would be interesting to have it all out on display, but it'd be too much, like a museum or shop," he says.

Diedericks and his cat Biscuit reside in Villiersdorp, a Western Cape farming town with a characteristic beauty that marks the Overberg region it's located in.

Hemmed in by sprawling apple orchards, Villiersdorp lies within a small valley accessed by some of the area's most spectacular scenery. From immense wheat fields to the breathtaking Franschhoek Pass, the town is cradled by postcard views. It charms those passing through with its white-walled Victorian houses and tree-lined avenues.

Diedericks's home is fronted by the great Hottentots Holland mountains and backed by the Riviersonderend range, with the Elands River tributary running before it.

He lives a life of simplicity; carless, he cycles into town and back for all his daily needs, takes pottery classes twice a week, practises yoga and seldom uses a computer, confessing to being "a Luddite, a builder and a gardener".

Surprisingly, for a gatherer, he firmly believes one can accrue too much stuff, speaking of one day stripping right back and "giving it all up".

It's in this unlikely place that Diedericks exists: between treasuring the things that he is inextricably drawn to, or more specifically their histories, and living a life of asceticism, completely free of baggage.

Giving in to his monk-like inclinations, he left Cape Town for Villiersdorp in search of a life of peace and quiet. He came to view his house in March of 2016, at a time when local temperatures hover below 30°C, and drought had ravaged the landscape.

"It was a dump! Good enough for a horror film," he says, relaying the severe damp that lurked in the walls, ineffectively concealed by timber panelling and emitting the stench of rot.

Green and black are the mainstay in the home's colour spectrum.
Image: Elsa Young/Bureaux Green and black are the mainstay in the home's colour spectrum.
A collection of heads make for an interesting wall-art display.
Image: Elsa Young/Bureaux A collection of heads make for an interesting wall-art display.

But, for all its transgressions, it was still an original Victorian home on a corner stand in the "nice part of town", with high ceilings and irreplaceable architectural heritage like the classic tin-roofed veranda and deep timber architraves. And for a man like Diedericks, potential awaits in the darkest of places.

"I didn't care what it looked like," he says, "I'm a dreamer and I know I can fix anything." He's not flattering himself; he has renovated and constructed many houses and has gained a set of skills most builders would be envious of.

The transformation has been slow — almost four years slow — but patience is something Diedericks has plenty of, and money doesn't grow on trees. While the layout remains much the same as before, the house is now flooded with light, amplified by its freshly plastered, clean white walls and new, pigmented cement floors.

In order to gain much-needed light and infuse the building with the breeziness it now possesses, Diedericks knocked down walls, moved doors and installed a cornucopia of solid-wood sash windows that he had been amassing for decades.

Diedericks regularly uses old tables he likes and cuts them in half lengthways for use as bathroom vanities.
Image: Elsa Young/Bureaux Diedericks regularly uses old tables he likes and cuts them in half lengthways for use as bathroom vanities.
In the double room, Diedericks has butted two  cupboards, topped with flea market trunks, up against each other.
Image: Elsa Young/Bureaux In the double room, Diedericks has butted two cupboards, topped with flea market trunks, up against each other.

As a collector with minimalist aspirations, his urge to strip back and live with less is always in the wings. This tension is present among the mass of precious belongings he has congregated over time, edited and styled with an austere undercurrent.

White walls with the crispness of an art gallery provide the requisite balance for tactile layers of rusted iron, steel, rattan, imbuia and oak, all in a graceful state of ageing. Without this combo, the space would lean towards gloomy junk-shop vibes.

Green and black, two colours Diedericks cannot resist, are the mainstay in the home's colour spectrum. Anything with a lion is also a done deal. Cue the small wooden statue of a man fighting a lion he bought in Mumbai — the arms of both were broken off, but that was no reason to abandon its acquisition.

Practicality is another tenet by which he lives. In his study and kitchen, he props his tables up on wooden blocks to improve on their comfort. He pragmatically defends his choice to hold back on displaying every item he has accumulated, saying, "For me, something has to be functional before it's beautiful — these things all have to be cleaned, so I'd rather stash them away."

Propped up on blocks in the study to heighten it, Diedericks's table was bought during his years living in the village of Greyton.
Image: Elsa Young/Bureaux Propped up on blocks in the study to heighten it, Diedericks's table was bought during his years living in the village of Greyton.
The star, reportedly made from World War 2 aircraft metal, was a Kalk Bay alleyway find Diedericks could not resist.
Image: Elsa Young/Bureaux The star, reportedly made from World War 2 aircraft metal, was a Kalk Bay alleyway find Diedericks could not resist.

Storage, in its various guises, has an allure Diedericks is drawn to. Cupboards, trunks, suitcases, tins and bins are all plausible vessels to maintain equilibrium in the home.

Cabinetry comes in the form of loose kitchen units and mismatched, worn cabinets, as well as banks of cupboards and suitcases lined up to form what is akin to a built-in solution, only far more sculptural.

Provenance matters to Diedericks, but not in the stuffy, antique dealer's sense — it's about stories and past lives. Asked how he chooses what he collects, he says, "It's love at first sight, it's either there or it's not."

Isn't it always that which one buys for love that has the richest stories to tell? A cupboard in the scullery, bearing the name Walker and Co Cabinetmakers, used to be home to roosting chickens. A scarred collection of Word War 2 ammunition boxes has been repurposed as shelving. A chest of drawers was reclaimed from a burning building and a spruced-up armchair, featuring the word "parliament" was sold to him from the trolley of a homeless man.

A collection of wire chairs from the Milnerton Market provide a comfy place to perch. Diedericks  added Cape Dutch gable details to the ends of the stoep to give it a bit of character, and installed original French doors that bring in the light and the breeze.
Image: Elsa Young/Bureaux A collection of wire chairs from the Milnerton Market provide a comfy place to perch. Diedericks added Cape Dutch gable details to the ends of the stoep to give it a bit of character, and installed original French doors that bring in the light and the breeze.

Come summertime, the plane trees that line the town's avenues are dense with foliage, shielding the streets from the full force of the heat, and the wild dagga bush produces orange-tipped spires that bring sunbirds to the garden.

By his own admission, Diedericks isn't a morning person; he prefers evenings, when the house cools and the fading sun casts a glow. It's then you'll find him on his back stoep sipping a beer or braaing from his wheelbarrow with friends.