Vivez Bien * Live Well

Monday, September 12, 2011


I don't like to boast, but I really do live in a beautiful part of the world! I am especially reminded of this every Thursday when I drive to the studio where I have an oil painting class. I drive through one of the most beautiful valleys in the Cape, the Constantia Valley, where there is an abundant array of forests, hills, stately historical homes and vineyards, and all of this is found just 5 minutes from my home and about 20 minutes from the city centre.

The house in the first picture is on one of the beautiful wine farms that I see on my drive. It is called "Buitenverwachting" which loosely translated means "beyond expectations". The magnificent homestead prompted me to do some research on this style of architecture. In the 17th and 18th century, the houses in the Cape Town area were built in the Cape Dutch architectural style, unique to this small area of the world and unquestionably beautiful. This style has sources as widely different as medieval Holland and Germany, the French Huguenots and the islands of Indonesia.

The “Cape Dutch” style is characterised by a thatched sloping roof, decorative gable, white plastered walls and symmetrical front windows with small panes that were often protected by shutters. These houses were often built by Malay artisans without a single blueprint or plan!

The first houses in this “Cape Dutch” style just consisted of 3 rooms in a rectangular shape. This later evolved to a T-plan and even later, another wing was added at right angles to the T and parallel to the original building. And so the H-plan evolved. This plan became the ultimate design in country houses and on which some of the Western Cape's most elegant farmsteads were designed.

Still later, outbuildings began to appear. These included a house, called a "jonkershuis" for the eldest son, stables and coach-house, servants quarters and a wine cellar. Usually a wall encircled the whole farmyard. With the backdrop of blue mountains, this presented an image of settled stability.

In the towns, the houses were built closer together and had open hearths were in every kitchen. The thatch roofs were a fire hazard when the notorious southeast wind blew. These houses were prey to fires wiping out entire streets at a time. Sadly, by the end of the 18th century many of Cape Town's thatched and gabled dwellings had vanished. There are only about 400 original Cape Dutch homes left today.

One of the most distinguishing features of the houses is, of course, the gable.

These could vary from being extremely decorative to quite plain.

Earlier versions have more baroque, curved and rounded forms...

...while later versions have sharper and more linear shapes that are Neoclassical in style.

The elaborate example above is at Groot Constantia, built in 1685, by the Dutch governor, Simon Van der Stel,  who was the first Governor of the Cape of Good Hope.

This gable on the Groot Constantia wine cellar, which was built much later, is more elaborate than most and has a very Romanesque feel.

This Jonkershuis (the home built for the eldest son) has been turned into a lovely restaurant where we often go with our children.

The walls surrounding the properties were thick and solid with a coping along the top and pillars at the ends.

Many beautiful examples of Cape Dutch homes can be found in the wine farming areas around Cape Town such as Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek.

You might be wondering about the interiors of these beautiful homes so that will be the subject of another post.


A vine covered "stoep" is also a common feature of these homes.

Many of the homes were built against the mountains which form such a magnificent backdrop. 

This home was built by a Frenchman in 1791 and was named after his hometown of Bourgogne (Burgundy) in France. You can detect the French influence in the design of this homestead. I love the beautiful decorative detail on the gable.

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into a little South African history.
Till next time

Sharon x


  1. Wonderful and very informative. Thank you!


  2. Breathtakingly beautiful Sharon, the buildings and the scenery.

  3. What a wonderful posting! Well done and thanks! Nou trek my hart sommer 'n punt, al die pad hier vanaf Sydney na die ou Kaap !

  4. As Lisa said "breathtaking"! Thanks Sharon for showing us these beautiful homes. I am looking forward to your post on the interiors which I am sure will be equally as stunning :)

  5. wow! really impressed about the beautiful sceneries and landscapes!!! I have to see the pics again! too beautiful! a bif kiss from colores

  6. I really enjoyed reading that, I was captured as soon as I saw the first photo!

  7. I enjoyed it very much Sharon, also enjoyed seeing those stunning homes and scenery!! Can't wait to see the insides! Have a great week, Martina

  8. Hi Sharon. I think we can boast away as we do live in a stunning place with wonderful people. We are very blessed indeed! Have a great week.


  9. how amazing is this place? at just had to read on after i saw such a divine pictures; thanks for sharing Sharon, i think you live in paradise!
    xo sandra

  10. What a treat to see this. Thank you for sharing. Most of us will probably never see your unique region of the world and this is too beautiful to miss.

  11. Hi Sharon, thank you for these beautiful images and brightening my day!
    XXX Ido

  12. I really like this style and find myself drawn to it. It must be wonderful seeing them regularly on your drives. Lucky thing. Fiona

  13. EXCELLENT. I thoroughly enjoyed this beautiful and educational post. I am so happy you realize how fortunate your are to live is such a lovely place. Hope I can visit this land one day!

  14. The grand stateliness of the homes, surrounding by that breathtaking landscape, is just what I remember it to be! Beautiful. Those homes are amazing and I'd love to hear more about the interiors...I seemed to be more into the wine at the time than the interiors. :)

  15. What a wonderful place you live in...

    I don't think I'll be stressed if I live in a place like that.

  16. Wonderful place, you live really in a beautiful Country!
    I hope to can visit you one day!
    Bisous, Babi

  17. such beautiful architecture..and I can't believe these homes were often built without any formal designs laid out...can't wait to see the interiors...beautiful images and writing..

  18. Gorgeous post, thanks for sharing this unique architecture.

  19. Oh Sharon, it is gorgeous. The landscape is amazing and love the architecture of the buildings.

  20. Yes you absolutely do live in a beautiful part of the world. The architecture and landscape are gorgeous. Thanks so much for sharing...and thanks so much for your lovely comment on my home. Hope you are having a great week. Mona

  21. Sharon what an interesting post. I love this architectural style and can imagine that the photos of these beautiful properties don't do them justice. I feel so drawn to the amazing landscape and scenery of your area of South Africa. It is high on my list of places to go!

    Lovely lovely post - I learned a lot.

    xx Charlotta

  22. In a word "stunning" you are indeed very lucky to be living in such a beautiful place.

    Leeann x

  23. So beautiful! I really enjoyed seeing and learning about Cape Dutch architecture. Thanks for sharing these lovely homes with us.

  24. Stunning architecture and so different from anything here in PA, USA. I could be sooo happy with a house so lovely.

  25. I think, i would bragg away living in such a divine area, so breathtakingly beautiful as the Cape. The cape and its magnificent scenery has to be seen to beileive how stunning.
    Your blog and photos are super.. so lively and descriptive.. i like them.
    i found you through helen tilston painter. She has encouraged me with my blogging. i am new to it.
    look forward to returning.
    send best wishes from portugal..
    a Durbanite..!!!
    val's alentejo.

  26. Oh Beautiful, Beautiful Cape, how could you do this to us?!!!! We emigrated from S.A. to lovely Vancouver Island a year-and-a-half ago to be near our children and grandchildren. At our ages, it was the right move at the right time and we are very happy here but the South African blood still pumps very strongly in our veins and the S.African tears are flowing freely now. Thank you for a very special post. Ex P.E-ites.