Rustic charm meets clever, cluttered chic

Barbara Hollands takes you into a home surrounded by nature and decorated with sentimental pieces

MOVING out of the suburbs and into her holiday house was the realisation of a decade-long dream for Janette Bennett who has surrounded herself not only with the natural wonders of a seaside nature reserve, but also with all the things she finds beautiful and sentimental.

Janette, a former Sunday Times and Sunday Tribune reporter and now a freelance editor, used to spend weekends in her “poky” Kwelera Nature Reserve holiday home while her children were younger and it made more sense to live near schools in the East London suburb of Vincent.

“This house was built in the ’40s and was a typical little beach house, but it is next to an indigenous forest and a walk to the beach, so two years ago we eventually got it together to put in a top floor and turn the outbuilding into a granny flat for my mother.”

The result is a home full of heart where every nook is filled – sometimes quirkily – with evidence of its owner’s creative and artistic flair.

The obvious style category that comes to mind when entering her eclectic home brimming with whimsy and nostalgia is shabby chic, but Janette looks a bit perplexed when this decorating approach is suggested.

“It wasn’t intended to be shabby chic, we just tried to re-use as much as possible, so we hang utensils from an old cupboard wardrobe and made a corner crockery cupboard out of an old French door. During building we saved the Canadian pine from the ceiling and repurposed it into the kitchen cupboard and we cleaned up an old enamel table from the garage and added castors and shelves for our kitchen island.

“We wash our dishes outside in a huge stainless steel sink which apparently was once a baby bath in a Transkei hospital.”

The word décor doesn’t feature much in Janette’s thinking. Rather, she is a keen recycler of the unwanted and an avid collector of special things.

“I love every single thing here and like to surround myself with things that are beautiful and have meaning. I love to re-use and recycle. It’s such a commitment to society to find beauty in things you already have. I don’t do colour co-ordination. To me it feels contrived.”

Instead her collections are her décor and, rather than cluttering up the airy seaside home, they are grouped together in such a way as to become art displays. Vintage handbags, old lanterns, framed pictures, candles, mirrors and books adorn the house in joyous bursts of colour and character. Even her collection of jewel-like beach glass has found a way to beautify her home in the form of a mosaic border that runs along the wall like a glassy eel.

“I don’t intend to be a collector – it just happens. But they are all things we use, they are not clutter.”

A keen gardener, Janette’s collections extend to her beautiful garden where multitudes of twirly succulents nestle among owl sculptures from Nieu-Bethesda and hundreds of green and brown wine bottles form unique borders which separate garden and vegetable beds from pathways.

“And no they are not just from my wine,” she quips. My friends knew I was collecting them and used to drop them over the fence for me. They look pretty and apparently they keep moles away when the wind whistles.”

Keeping bushbuck away from snacking on her lovingly tended flowers is more tricky – one of the charming annoyances of living in a nature reserve. “They eat my plants terribly, especially my agapanthus and roses, but what a privilege to have such a problem.”

As a vegetarian, growing her own food is a source of joy and satisfaction and some meals are derived solely from her veggie patch.

“Growing your own food and being less reliant on going to the shops is more self sustaining and we are trying to get to being less dependent on shopping for food,” Bennett said.

“Life is very different now and I have time to make lemon preserve and tomato relish – things I never did before. When I lived in Durban and Joburg I was always so busy. I am not so busy here, but life feels fuller.”

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