Estelle Scholtz and Dirk Hartford evoked a natural alchemy when they combined two rudimentary houses in the tiny fishing village of Hawston on South Africa’s Whale Coast to form their magical seaside haven

When Estelle Scholtz and Dirk Hartford decided to settle in the miniscule fishing village of Hawston in the Western Cape Overstrand district, they were drawn to the elemental beauty of the location. Behind them to the east, the Onrusberge that signal the start of the rugged Kleinrivier Mountain range; in front, to the west, the glorious Sandown Bay backed by the Kogelberg (home to the UNESCO-designated Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve), with its vertiginous cliffs that plunge straight into the wild ocean. To the south is the fynbos-covered Vermont Nature Reserve, while the Bot River lagoon lies to the north. At Hawston, this majestic setting has changed little since the fishing hamlet was born in 1840, and the village is still occupied by descendants of those first fishermen.

With Dirk’s history as a pioneering trade unionist, anti-apartheid activist and the driving force behind YFM, South Africa’s first – and enormously successful – youth radio station, and Estelle’s emphasis on community upliftment throughout her career as a designer, interior decorator and photographer, it is no surprise that their home is space that honours both the people and the geography that surround it

When the couple first saw the land, it was occupied by two tiny, cheek-by-jowl houses. In love with the site but entirely unwilling to flatten these rudimentary but perfectly adequate buildings, they considered their requirements: firstly, they both needed space to work from home, as well as a studio for Estelle’s photographic work and creative projects; secondly, there needed to be plenty of room to accommodate Dirk’s and Estelle’s grown-up children when they visited (between them, they have four kids); they’re both addicted to fresh air and the outdoors, so the home needed to connect to the outdoors and accommodate a barefoot, alfresco lifestyle; it had to be appropriate to its fishing village and the community around them; most importantly, it had to be practical, grounded and easy to live in.

With their signature ‘make-do’ mentality, it didn’t take Estelle and Dirk long to come up with a solution: open up the existing structures and join the individual elements to create a single, more-or-less open-plan space. The original house at the back of the plot is now the en-suite master bedroom, while the dwelling on the seaside formed the foundations for what is now the open-plan sitting room-cum-office. A generous kitchen/dining space seamlessly bridges the area between.

Multitasking is the name of the game in this home: tucked against the kitchen wall is a sculptural concrete staircase that leads up to a generous, light-flooded studio apartment.

The only internal walls up here serve to give the bathroom a measure of privacy. Not only is this Estelle’s art studio, this level – which even has its own full-service kitchen – serves as an autonomous apartment for visitors. The generous balcony that flanks the entire north-facing wall upstairs provides loads of outdoor living space. West-facing windows and doors overlook Hawston’s pristine Blue Flag beach and the bay beyond. “It reminds me of Middle Earth,” says Estelle of the ocean vista punctuated by the dramatic mountains that plunge into the sea.

True to Estelle’s aesthetic, the interiors are thoroughly unpretentious, tactile and welcoming. She was guided by her desire to provide as much employment as possible to local Hawston craftsmen, for whom employment opportunities are thin on the ground. Builders’ scaffolding planks were recrafted to form the kitchen cabinetry, cooking islands and bookshelves (and there are a lot of these, all groaning with the couple’s eclectic library of books). The generous volumes are complemented by a streamlined simplicity: low concrete shelves upstairs and down hold vintage Rayburn stoves that radiate warmth throughout the home in winter; upstairs the shelf doubles as storage space, while downstairs it is painted charcoal and functions as an underslung mantelpiece. The pale screeded concrete floors are painted and then finished with a matt seal that subtly reflects the light filtering through the shuttered windows. Walls are painted in textured Earthcote, inside in a pale sand colour, outside in an earthy green hue that blends with the surrounding vegetation.

Furnishings are simple – as homely as the interior is, it is not a place that is filled with extraneous clutter. The palette is neutral, with an emphasis on texture and all things handcrafted.

But the defining element of this home is also its heart – the alfresco spaces that blur the boundary between indoors and out. The expansive, covered verandah – furnished year round with comfy seating, a generous dining table and benches and a handmade gum-pole swing seat – leads towards the sunken fire pit, where simple sawn logs serve as stools. At its east side, it opens onto an extension of the master bedroom, but unlike the cosy cocoon that forms its other half, this space with its king-size bed is almost wholly open to the elements. This alfresco bedroom is where the couple sleeps beneath the African night sky. A raised planted platform holding a garden within the bedroom is backed by a vertical garden planted with waterwise succulents. Suspended above the raised garden is a hammock where Estelle and Dirk spend lazy summer afternoons. Casual? Yes. Conventional? Most certainly not!

Comfortable seating is dotted all around the expansive covered veranda. The ’70s-style cane chair was a secondhand find from Vamp. The green-painted shelf on castors placed alongside the front door is a subtle signal to visitors to join in the couple’s barefoot lifestyle. Estelle painted the mother-and-child fertility statue white to add a contemporary touch. Cushions on Morris chairs painted in Earthcote in Vernon are covered in hand-cut hadenga embroidery custom-made for Estelle’s Rapt Living interiors business.

The open-plan living area was once a tiny freestanding house. Light floods in through the large windows: “The builder just arrived with these arched windows and told us we’d be using them,” laugh Estelle and Dirk. The conversation pit is lined with cushions covered in hand-cut hadenga fabric designed by Estelle and made by her team of Zimbabwean crafters. The deep-buttoned chesterfield is from Lim, while the white stool (a copy of Philippe Starck’s Prince Aha stool for Kartell) echoes the geometry of Dirk’s collection of jembe drums. Dirk’s office zone with its large white trestle table is tucked into a book-lined corner of the living space. In the opposite corner, Sharp Sharp – an Eero Aarnio Magis Puppy pimped for Design Indaba 2009’s Best of Bowwow competition – was a surprise present from Dirk; it enjoys a prime position on the low-slung charcoal mantel alongside a large artwork by Kudzanai Chiurai. The ceramic elephant trophy between the windows is by Shirley Fintz; below it is “Three Horses” by David Goldblatt.

A deep-buttoned grey velvet chesterfield from Lim separates the communal living space from Dirk’s office zone, which is backed by a tall bookshelf made by local carpenters out of white-painted builders’ scaffolding planks.

Situated in a corner of the living area, Estelle’s ‘office’ consists of a large circular tabletop resting on wooden trestle legs. “We always ‘make do’,” says Estelle, of her genius capacity for adapting everyday objects to lend them a designer air. The Artemide Table Lamp is a relatively uncommon concession to famous design objets.

View from the open-plan living space into the kitchen. The shelves, countertops and cooking island were all constructed from scaffolding planks by local Hawston craftsmen. Estelle painted the wooden Loft Living stools white to emphasize their sinuous curves. The celadon-glazed crockery was made by potter Esra Bosch, who is based near Nelspruit. Two photographs by Grada Djeri adorn the far wall, and an Andrew Shabangu photograph hangs above the kitchen Belfast sink.

The linen-upholstered sofa upstairs in the studio apartment is from Cécile & Boyd’s. An antique wakis is complemented by the reclaimed-wood coffee table on castors made by local carpenters. The haunting photographs on the wall are from Grada Djeri’s Head Series; above it hang the remnants of a weathered enamel bowl that Estelle found in the Knysna forests.

In the self-contained upstairs studio apartment, the tall headboard of the centrally positioned bed separates the kitchen from the sleeping and living zones. The antique bath refinished in turquoise enamel is a typically quirky touch that provides a refreshing bolt of colour. Texture is all important in the interiors, from the glossy screeded cement floor to the gritty Earthcote-painted walls; from the lightly washed exposed ceiling beams to the furnishings made from grainy reclaimed scaffolding planks. The Cécile & Boyd’s sofa is slip-covered in the same heavy linen used to make the cut-work hadenga bedspread.

The trio of photographs high on the kitchen wall are from Estelle’s Rose Series. The studio kitchen echoes the style of the main kitchen downstairs, with simple concrete kitchen units and a central cooking island made from reclaimed scaffolding planks by local Hawston carpenters. Estelle painted the wooden stools from Loft Living a stark white.

Estelle had the wonderful Victorian pedestal bath refinished in turquoise enamel. Like the rest of the home, the upstairs bathroom features plenty of artworks, including this vintage anatomical chart of the skeletal system.

Estelle and Dirk have leased adjacent land from the council for their fynbos garden. The peaks in the background are part of the Onrusberge that signal the start of the dramatic Cape Fold mountain ranges that frame the coastal plain here.

It reminds me of Middle Earth,” says Estelle of the wildly beautiful Hawston beach and the bay beyond. The beach’s dramatic views of the Cape Fold mountains vie with its delicate dune ecosystem and perfect swimming conditions – despite its remote, rural setting, it has a reputation as one of the Western Cape safest swimming beaches.

For interiors, products and photography contact Estelle Scholtz at

The house is available for seasonal rentals; contact 083 303 8370 or

Credits: Production Sven Alberding/ Photographs Warren Heath/ Text Sally Rutherford/

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