Knysna’s lagoon provides the perfect setting for this eclectic family home turned self-catering holiday retreat
Words Tracy Lynn Chemaly Photographs Angie Lezaro
The smell of jasmine fills the air, while bright-pink bougainvillea paint the walls, providing a striking colour that shows off Rockery Nook’s French-blue shutters and door frames. This self-catering retreat rests peacefully alongside the Knysna lagoon, with the lush green Heads towering mightily above.
Left: Outdoor stairways with jasmine-entwined balustrades lead down from the street to the main house and cottages, before taking you all the way down to the Knysna lagoon. Center: The kitchen serves as a family gathering spot. The large wooden tables bring attention to the wooden ceiling beams that were stripped of most of their original white paint to create a textured, country feel. Right: The dining room leads on from the kitchen and out to the front entrance, leading up to the street. The couple’s appreciation for art is evident throughout Rockery Nook
Robert and Annabelle Desfontaines bought the property 17 years ago. ‘We were searching for a holiday home and started wandering around Leisure Isle in Knysna. From across the lagoon, we saw this house. It was a white concrete cube with yellow steel window panes,’ says Robert. It was this exciting canvas that the couple purchased and renovated to include three additional cottages. ‘When I saw the walls stripped for replastering, I fell in love with the rough stone that was emerging, so we stone-clad the house – much to the anguish of the builder!’ says Annabelle, with reference to the remote site’s inaccessibility that led to it having to be excavated by hand.
While commuting between this and their Joburg home, the couple (along with their four children) made it their perfect getaway, filled with an eclectic mix of colours and decor items sourced mainly from auctions, antique and junk stores. ‘I hate houses that are contrived and stiff and over decorated,’ says Annabelle, agreeing with Robert that the decor was influenced by their unique tastes and travels together.
Rockery Nook is home to a few beautiful French items, including a rusted daybed on wheels that fits snuggly on the stoep overlooking the lagoon. The stoep’s timber ceiling serves as a deck leading from the bedrooms on the floor above, and complements the natural tone provided by the mixture of wicker and wooden chairs below. Rusted candlesticks and chandeliers lend an offbeat air to this beach-like setting that is enveloped by nature, and enjoyed by family, friends and new and returning guests.
Left: Robert painted the main bedroom in a striking blue chosen by Annabelle to draw a feeling of the lagoon into the home. Their quirky take on interior decorating is expressed in the non-matching collection of bedside lamps and side tables (the latter having been used to hold toilet pots in the old days). The iron cross above the bed is one of a pair from a graveyard in France. Center: This pumpkin-coloured bedroom is filled with interesting dreamcatchers and religious iconography that provide the room with an offbeat, eclectic feel. Right: This old chemist display cabinet now acts as an artworks showcase. Robert added the wine rack on top to extend its practicality
Annabelle’s dream farmhouse kitchen includes a cream-coloured Aga stove, with massive hot plates and generous ovens, that heat up the house during the winter months. The tile-decorated Godin fireplace in the lounge does the same trick, warming up the family members who choose to sit and stare out the nearly floor-to-ceiling windows offering a view of the lagoon and the opposite Head.
The same view is enjoyed from the main bedroom, painted blue for effect and decorated with a Mexican-style bedspread, feather dream-catchers, crucifixes and an ornate cross pinned over the bed – another French item, this one sourced from a tomb in France – a Christmas present from Robert to Annabelle.
None of the bedrooms have built-in cupboards, so the couple enjoyed choosing armoires unique to each room, including the two roof-top rooms that Robert built up himself. Small chest of drawers and massive linen closets are used in such a way that they form part of the home’s decor.
Robert also took on the task of doing most of the paint finishes himself, including staining the pine found throughout the house to create a sense of warmth. When it came to the ceiling, the white paint was stripped off the original yellow wood beams, but not completely, leaving subtle traces of it to provide charm.
Rockery Nook is filled with many whimsical details. In the TV room, a chemist’s wooden display cabinet has been installed into the wall, with an extension above that serves as a wine rack. In the outdoor honeymoon cottage (aka Lover’s Nook), the gable decoration above the wardrobe didn’t suit Robert’s taste, so he removed it and found the perfect place for it as a detail above the kitchenette window frame. He also made large template stencils of the tile print in the bathrooms and used these to paint patterns on the walls.
‘Visualisation is a talent,’ Robert attests. Annabelle agrees: ‘But anyone can have it if they open their minds to their dreams.’