A young family’s off-the-grid bush escape in South Africa’s untamed Little Karoo blends rugged style with Provençal sensibility.
Words Jessica Ross. Styling Sven Alberding. Photography Warren Heath.
There are few scenes as idyllic as luxuriating in an outdoor tub in the middle of the South African bush, G&T in hand, listening to the cacophony of 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 bush surrounds of the Western Cape’s Klein Karoo.
Immersed among rugged tufts of indigenous plants and undulating uninhabited landscape as far as the eye can see, 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 plunged within the surrounding scrub, and far enough from the roofing to have an eyeful of star-washed sky at night.
“We sometimes put on the whole 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 alighted on the property, located some two to three hours’ drive from Cape Town, the existing ramshackle structure was dwarfed by its majestic environment.
“It was really just a piece of land. The boma [cabin] was falling apart, but it was the first place we looked at and we could see its potential,” says Samantha.
The couple, their three-year-old daughter, Francesca, and chocolate brown labrador, Lacoste, started visiting on weekends, travelling up a precarious road to the cabin, where they’d spend days improving the infrastructure and nights listening out for the strange sounds of nearby wildlife.
“The first thing we needed to address was the connectivity,” says William, who quickly 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, but we’ve kept our footprint light – we use gas, solar power and rainwater. It is totally off-the-grid.”
As founder and CEO at 2oceansvibe.com, an award-winning media brand, William is rarely afforded the opportunity to be switched off. A quick success in a city after which it is named, 2oceansvibe.com encompasses Cape Town’s laid-back lifestyle with its “Work is a sideline. Live the holiday” tag line, and quickly grew from blog to multimedia news and marketing platform within a few years.
Joining forces with Samantha, 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 café and boutique in Cape Town’s inner city serving country-style fare alongside furniture and fashion finds from France. Cabine du Cap is the latest to join the stable.
Francophiles at heart, the Mellors’ style vision for Cabine was inspired by the Provençal countryside, particularly the lavender-swathed village of Luberon where they were married. Melding this with the campaign look (think old-school military luxe), 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.
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,” says Samantha. This was used for the decking, expanding the living space and integrating the cabin with its environment. With the couple’s direction, Butler also created a stone-walled fireplace – “an essential addition for winter nights”. Yet no matter how cool it gets in winter, there’s a warmth that’s imbued by the Rhino Wood, which extends from the deck to indoor floors, walls and ceiling.
The interiors were Samantha’s domain, having worked in the retail industry for more than 10 years. Collections of vintage suitcases and bird motifs are found throughout the cabin.
The couple are resourceful when it comes to finding special pieces, scouring classifieds and auctions and making use of family hand-me-downs. For Samantha, inspiration came in many forms – movies (“I just love that house in Out of Africa”), French markets and the towers of interior 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. Rhebok and klipspringer are often sighted in the early morning. “What’s really been amazing is how much we’ve learned about birds and the bush – we can actually name some of the plant species,” says Samantha.
The couple have a love for the fynbos (vegetation) that covers the Karoo, admiring its changing seasonal hues, from yellow, to red and then a purple haze 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,” says William. “I know, it sounds like a cliché but you don’t really understand until you’re there: it’s completely silent, the moon is like a spotlight… You stand there and all your troubles go away.”
bureaux.co.za, House Mellor, Klein Karoo