Robertson Cottage

WORDS Sam Woulidge PHOTOS Neil Vosloo PRODUCTION Etienne Hanekom


Interior designer Etienne Hanekom likes spending weekends in the platteland, working on whichever dilapidated house has captured his imagination. This cottage was meant to be a flip: Buy, fix, sell. Don’t get too attached…

For three years, Etienne Hanekom drove past a derelict 150-year-old cottage on his way to his grand old Victorian in Robertson, without noticing the nondescript ochre building. Then, one day, a friend told him that a small cottage near his house was for sale. Upon finally noticing it and entering it for the first time, Etienne instantly fell for both its dimensions and the price.

“It was a forgettable, run-down, sad little house,” Etienne says. “A long, narrow house built of clay with four windows and a front door. Yet I walked in and knew I wanted it. The house had a certain atmosphere that I liked, a feeling that resonated with me.”

There is always a house that winds its way into Etienne’s heart. These are his personal projects. And they are always very personal, even when they’re not meant to be.

As he began to transform the dilapidated cottage, Etienne fell more for it. He mostly works with large spaces, but he has a particular fondness for small ones. By the time he had completed the pink vaulted bathroom, he had sold his much larger Victorian house down the road and was making plans to move into the narrow little cottage.

“This house is tiny, but it doesn’t feel like it. The ceilings are relatively high, giving the impression of volume. I made an open-plan kitchen, dining and living area in the centre, with a double bedroom and bathroom on either side. I also created a large outdoor lounge area, a real green room, by building a semi-enclosed stoep with French doors leading off the living area and into a lush garden with a small swimming pool that I call The Pond. The house doesn’t feel as small as it is, but with more than four people it begins to feel slightly crowded.”

Being a small space – and also because it was initially meant to be a flip – Etienne had to practise some self-restraint with colour. “It was hard using so little colour, but this house wanted to be light. So I used off-white for most of the indoor areas and painted the newly cast concrete floors and the wooden roof trusses a muted chocolate brown. This is a house with attitude, so I brought in dark greens for the kitchen and strong pinks for the vaulted wet room and hideous Vibracrete wall.”

In terms of furnishings, the fabrics are velvet and the furniture an eclectic mix of antique and modern pieces.

There are, as always, animal mounts on the walls. “These are my children. They are not my hunting trophies. I don’t hunt. Never have. I found these in second-hand shops and I’ve given them a second life. An honourable second life.” And when asked why, Etienne simply replies. “They chase away the evil spirits and keep the ghosts at bay. They are guardians.”

From the outside, the now whitewashed house is structurally untouched. The window frames were replaced, the front door was painted pink, but the old corrugated-iron roof remains, as do the skew lines and odd angles. Etienne likes imperfections. “You can’t make everything straight and force alignment. If you do that, an old house loses its charm.”

Where it was once an easily overlooked, unloved cottage, the House with the Pink Door is now a bright-white beacon of light, a whimsical cottage in an otherwise ordinary street. Totally unforgettable.