When the pioneering owners of Gondwana decided it was time to move off the game reserve to an urban centre with schools, they were not keen to forsake the wilderness completely. The Point House on a sprawling countryside property in Knysna was a perfect fit and a fun refurbishment project.
WORDS Clare van Rensburg PHOTOGRAPHS Melanie Maré & Vanessa van Vreden
Wendy Rutherfoord felt chills down her spine when she and husband Mark first drove up the sweeping shaded driveway of The Point House. “We fell in love with the spectacular garden overlooking the Knysna lagoon and its mature indigenous trees, and felt an instant connection to the expansive property and century-old house,” says Wendy.
The historic Point House’s imposing square facade expresses its age and grandeur. Beautifully restored lead plate glass windows offer a view not only into the home, but straight through to the garden beyond, including pale purple Wisteria flowers shading the rear courtyard. The house is shielded on three sides by tall trees – ancient yellowwoods, gnarled milkwoods, ironwoods, stinkwood and coral trees.
Despite the challenging task of renovating a 500m₂ manor house, Wendy immediately saw potential to create a more modern family home. Having spent the past 12 years developing Gondwana Game Reserve outside Mossel Bay from scratch, the couple was no stranger to an ambitious project.
Built in 1930 in French Chateau style by prominent Kenyan professional hunter James Twigg, The Point House was ornately and formally decorated with dark stencilled walls, gold trimmings and heavy curtains when the Rutherfoords bought it. While proud of the home’s heritage, they were excited to introduce a more casual contemporary style suitable for a young family. “We loved the bones of the house with its high ceilings, large windows and beautiful mouldings but wanted to remove the heavy, ornate and formal look. The first thing we did was take down every curtain to allow light to flood into the space.”
Wendy says the house was in very good shape to begin with. “The previous owners lovingly restored the house and had updated the electrics, plumbing, roofing and windows, so we just had to give the place a little facelift.”
The main remodelling challenge was the position of the original kitchen, which was completely separate in the back of the house. Wendy wanted the kitchen to link to the living area to create a central space for open-plan family living, cooking, dining and relaxing. “I’m most proud of how we reconfigured the spaces. By knocking a wall down, closing off some doorways and repurposing rooms, we have managed to achieve a social flow downstairs and all the bedrooms tucked away together privately upstairs.”
The couple repainted the exterior in a soft stone colour to complement the terracotta-tiled roof. Pale green-grey window frames surround the charming plate glass windows.
The red Oregon pine floors were sanded and lightened, while a refreshing coat of pale sage green paint on interior walls creates flow through the house and reinforces the connection to the garden.
Mark is exceptionally passionate about the garden. “The garden was beautiful but very overgrown, so we lifted the bottom branches of many of the trees and shrubs to see the beauty beyond and through them. When we bought the house we joked it would be our third child, and we have enjoyed bringing out its potential.”
Laid with homemade paving stones, the front courtyard leads to raised vegetable and flowerbeds, and a bubbling water feature. The sprawling front lawn encompasses a large swimming pool and open air pool house, which was built using the timber trusses reclaimed from the estate’s old pergola. The front entrance leads to an informal reception room and sets the tone for the home. A light breeze off the lagoon blows through the open doorway, bringing the scent of summer flowers. Four metre-high ceilings draw the eye up to the original cornice mouldings.
A compact family lounge boasts a beautifully remodelled textured cement fireplace articulated with an antique wooden mirror, displaying Wendy’s aptitude for marrying period architectural features with ultra-modern finishes. A luxurious family kitchen centres around a large island topped with pale green Caesarstone quartz. Tailor-made oak bar stools by local furniture designers Meyer von Wielligh add a natural touch.
A short walk leads to an outside back courtyard where the family dine al fresco beneath an arbour trailing a mass of purple Wisteria. “This whole plant grows from a single gnarled root; the kids climb on the twisting branches and bumble bees visit the drooping flowers while we eat beneath,” Wendy says.
The stairs exemplify how the imposing décor of the house’s previous life was lightened; “We took off the heavy carpets and stair rods, and left the floors fresh and sanded. We added loose sisal rugs on the landing to create warmth.” A huge plate glass window overlooking the back garden is one of Wendy’s favourite viewpoints. It offers a sweeping vista of a massive yellowwood tree and beneath it the quirky Western-inspired chicken coop and rabbit hutch: “I often pause at this window to watch the kids playing and climbing, or to call them in.”
The upstairs area was renovated to replace an open lounge with a third bedroom for six-year-old Benjamin. The original antique display cabinets are packed with colourful toys and stuffed animals.
Next door, nine-year-old Lucy’s room is painted a pale blush pink and features twin four-poster beds painted in antique blue with cheeky bright bed fabrics. The poles were hand-turned by Knysna-based Malawian craftsman Kamik Malindi as a birthday gift. Outside the window, the boughs of a large Jacaranda tree add to the fairy tale atmosphere, bearing vivid lilac blossoms in summer.
The master bedroom is positioned in the west side of the house, where the bed occupies a central position in the room. There were no showers in the house when the Rutherfoords bought it. So, a small bedroom was converted to an en-suite master bathroom featuring a double walk-in shower with a superb view through the glass partition to the Brenton headland. Every centimetre of the two-hectare property is used to full effect. Mark describes the garden as their “most treasured asset’’. Rope swings, hammocks and tree houses are scattered throughout the property. “And when the kids are not using it, the local wildlife do,” he says. Knysna Loeries cough in the forest, herons nest in the bushes, geese swim in their pool and a troop of baboons sweep in to raid their guava, plum and fig trees in summer.
The Rutherfoords adore their Knysna suburban retreat, claiming it offers the best of both worlds; “It has the privacy of the countryside in a town setting,” says Wendy. The couple chose Knysna for its community feeling and excellent private school, Oakhill.
“Having spent so much time living in a game reserve, we were not keen to forsake the wilderness and privacy completely,” the couple agree. The Point House offers a perfect compromise – a tranquil and secluded haven to work from home and raise a family. “We have found that since we moved off the reserve, we have become far more productive in our business,” says Mark, adding he is happy to commute the 90-minute drive to Gondwana three days a week. Mark sums up the sentiment of many local residents when he says; “It is a challenge to be able to live and work in the Garden Route, but a real privilege.”