Not so long ago, Wilja Reitz was a celebrated Cape Town interior couturier whose decadent handmade lampshades and extravagant hats found international audiences. In 2013 she gave it all up to pursue a dream that has been enticing her for more than ten years.
WORDS Athane Scholtz PHOTOGRAPHS Desmond Scholtz
The baroque barn outside Plettenberg Bay is filled with the stuff dreams are made of. Weaver birds’ nests and baskets hang from beams, plants spill over the brim of an old bath tub, and pretty things dangle and twinkle everywhere. My senses are filled to the brim and we are still only on the stoep – a whole treasure chest of beautiful items await discovery inside.
“Ouland Royale is meant to be a space where people can come and escape reality, a fantasy place where they can eat decadent food, and feel happy and safe,” says Wilja Reitz, the owner of the extraordinary venue and eatery that has people talking.
Raised in Knysna, Wilja says she was a fantastical child who believed in and talked to fairies. She was also fascinated by the minute details she saw through her veterinarian dad, Dr André Reitz’s, microscope and marvelled at the unseen life it represented. “Based on this experience I enrolled for a science degree at Stellenbosch University, but soon realised that it was the beauty rather than the biological that was appealing to me. I switched over to fine art sculpture, and obtained my degree in 1995.”
She started making decorative hats and couture lampshades in her spare time. “The hats probably best represent what goes on in my head, and are 3D representations of how I make sense of the many beautiful unseen things I perceive.”
She got the chance for an extraordinary gap year to help renovate an uncle’s 150-year-old chateau in France, which changed her creative path irrevocably. “The skills and techniques I learned were the best and very hands-on. To this day I use that knowledge, skills set and influences when I restore furniture or make lamps.”
On her return to South Africa, Wilja enrolled for a post graduate qualification in graphic design but it was once again her after-hours passion that defined her future. “I was, and still am, fascinated by light and form, which ultimately led to me making decorative lamp shades.” Adorned with baubles, feathers, textured fabric and all things pretty, the lampshades were snapped up by Cape Town designers as soon as she walked into their shops with her handiwork. The design world so loved her work, she eventually opened her own shop, Decadence Boutique, in 2003 and became known as interior couturier of once-off lighting pieces. The interior shop also sold bespoke and gilded furniture that Wilja had made and restored, and she completed many large commissions for private homes and corporate spaces.
Among her successes was featuring in Decorex Cape together with top class couturiers Malcolm Klük, Christiaan Gabriël du Toit, Maya Prass, Kirsty Bannerman and Shakur Olla, who each selected garments from their collections, which Wilja had to match with a lamp.
Her fantastical hats were equally successful and regularly featured at high society occasions such as the Durban July and the J&B Met. More recently, a client asked her to design a hat to match her designer outfit to the Royal Ascot Race Day in June last year.
Soon after she opened the shop, Wilja says she started dreaming of a baroque barn, and after ten years the images in her mind were so strong she knew she had to build it. “I was also desperately missing my family who had all by that time moved to my grandparents’ farm outside Plettenberg Bay.”
In early 2013 she closed her shop and sold her Victorian manor in Cape Town, and moved back to the farm. “I threw everything I had into building this dream and spent my entire life’s savings. By that time the picture was so clear in my head, it was just a case of realising it – eight months later, in November 2013, Ouland Royale opened for business.”
A self-confessed workaholic passionate about women empowerment, Wilja is all about teaching and doing things for herself. “I thrive on proving to myself and others that I can achieve almost anything through self-belief and gratitude for my blessings in life. I try to encourage that in my staff too – there are very few things we cannot do if only we put our minds to it and believe in our inner strength.”
Wilja named her venue after the farm, which her grandmother had dubbed Ouland (old land), and an Afrikaans song Royal Hotel by David Kramer. “I loved the song when I was a child and it fit well with the boere baroque Russian theme of the barn and the decadent royal feel of the decor.”
The double volume ceiling and sliding doors that run almost the extent of the side walls create a light-filled space that is dramatically and decadently decorated. Long tables are set with silverware, crystal, candles and flowers. Tea and cake are served on antique and collectable crockery. Lounging spaces are created by cleverly placed couches, covered in dramatic and playful fabrics. Walls are adorned with gilded mirrors and antique portraits. Wilja’s lampshades add colour, drama and whimsy. Funky hats cover mannequins or hang over the corners of portraits and mirrors.
“I’ve collected many beautiful pieces throughout the years and several of the ones in Ouland Royale come with lovely stories.”
Initially intended as a wedding venue with simple cake and tea, the eatery became unexpectedly popular. “I taught myself to bake, which was also a childhood dream, and the food is really honest and unpretentious. It turned out to be a winner and people continue to come back for more.”
Part of Ouland Royale is an antique and décor shop, and Wilja continues to make couture lampshades and hats on order. “It feels like my life is not long enough for the things I still want to create. My creativity feeds my soul, it’s why I work.
“I believe Ouland Royale appeals to people who love and appreciate beauty, quality and attention to detail – and who understand the energy of goodwill, romance and decadence here.”
Visit Ouland Royale
Ouland Royale is open for breakfast, lunch and tea, Tuesday to Friday from 8am to 4pm, and Saturday from 8m to 1pm.
Ouland Royale weddings and functions
Seats up to 150 guests and provides a full service, including food, cutlery and crockery, as well as lists of preferred service providers such as photographers, dress designers and more.