Kaleidoscopic destination

Samantha Smith

IT WAS the most awesome identity crisis I’ve ever had. The website for Bamboo guesthouse in Knysna gave the distinct impression that my upcoming weekend away would be at a tranquil, Thai-themed establishment.

There were beautiful photos of the Buddha, lush tropical gardens and even a bamboo border around the webpage.

But assumption, as they say, is the mother of all unspeakables, and our arrival at the rambling guesthouse on the slopes below Pezula brought with it the realisation that this eclectic hideaway was never going to fit into any pigeon holes.

In fact, its head-spinning decor blows all notion of traditional design out the water.

“It’s a bit of everything from Mexican to Moroccan, Thai and African,” says owner Gordon Turrell with a smile and non-committal shrug.

On closer inspection, I added Indian and good ol’ fashioned Karoo farm style into the mix.

But for those who don’t share my compulsion to label everything, Bamboo can simply be described as the decor version of fusion cooking – a bit of everything mixed together to make a glorious helping of hospitality.

Gordon and his partner Jaynie Court are clearly avid collectors who like mixing things up and both they and their friendly, relaxed guesthouse scream personality with a capital P.

The couple bought the property five years ago and set about transforming it from a house with three cottages into the 14-unit family getaway it now is.

All units have their own entrances and our Honeymoon Loft was a haven of treetop decadence. Perched on top of the building with a private wooden balcony and a wall of windows that looked out onto another wall of lush, green trees, I felt like Robinson Crusoe’s treehouse had undergone a millionaire makeover.

A plump and lavishly styled four-poster bed in front of a cosy wood-burning fire, with a welcoming decanter of port on the side dresser, was the perfect respite from the chilly rain outside. Adding a touch of romance was a clawfoot bath tub discreetly placed behind a screen in the massive main room, while a large shower room offered a steamier ablution alternative.

Our unit was one of two on the property that is kitted out for self-catering. It was well- equipped and the sitting room had been successfully transformed into a second bedroom for our two children.

While the room was well equipped and spacious, it was the attention to detail that set it apart from your average run-of-the-mill guest house.

Hand-crafted wire lamps, a vintage pewter tray with matching wine glasses for the port, colourful bursts of artwork on the walls and heavy antique furniture made it difficult to leave for the icy weather outside.

But the short walk on the boardwalk through a lush, tropical garden, to the main lounge and dining area is worth it.

Here there were more roaring fires, a cosy lounge with a bar, and a casual eating area complete with an indoor braai festooned in bright mosaic.

Gordon and Jaynie are gracious, friendly and chatty, and clearly enjoy the social aspect of the hospitality industry.

A builder by trade and clearly an entrepreneur by heart, Gordon did all the renovations and gardens himself, with plenty of help from Jaynie.

“We fell into the business of a guesthouse quite by accident,” Gordon said.

“I had a restaurant in Johannesburg, but we wanted to live in Knysna – partly because my family was here. My mom has lived in Knysna for 30 years and I have a sister in George and another in Port Elizabeth.

“We weren’t specifically looking to start up a guesthouse, but we looked at about 60 houses to live in before we settled on this one,” Gordon said.

The idea of a guesthouse was only just borne when the couple received a large booking – and it was game on.

A year after their purchase, the plot next door went up for sale, and the couple bought it and extended the guesthouse over both properties.

“It took about a year and R2-million to get it to the finished product. At the same time I was working on this, I was also doing major renovations for two restaurants in town, as well as four or five houses, so it was a busy time,” Gordon reflected.

Although the structure is long complete, the guesthouse still changes constantly, with new updates regularly on the go.

“We change our decor as we feel like it. We’re always adding in new sculptures or artwork. At the moment, we’re both very into colour,” he said.

This is clear from the artwork that hangs on almost every available wall. It is diverse and at times eclectic. A colourful painting of Nelson Mandela with dreadlocks is a definite conversation-starter, and most of the artwork is for sale to guests.

Jaynie and Gordon clearly like a bit of travel and have bought many interesting items that they have incorporated into their colourful guesthouse. “We buy old doors in the Karoo and renovate them for the rooms. We enjoy repurposing and giving old things new life,” Gordon said.

Many guesthouses, hotels and B&Bs in Knysna – and indeed around the country – have had to restrategise in the wake of the global economic recession, which has severely cut back on foreign tourism. The South African traveller is now increasingly being targeted as an alternative source of revenue, and new deals are being cut to fit their cloth.

While Gordon says his guests make up a mix of nationalities, at least 50% of them are South African.

He and Jaynie emphasise that their main aim is to accommodate families.

“A lot of guesthouses don’t really cater for children, or don’t want kids so they charge too much for them. Here the rooms can accommodate children anyway, so we don’t charge that much more,” he said.

And with a garden that invites adventure, fish ponds, aviaries, two swimming pools and a hive of bees that supply the guesthouse with a massive 18kg of honey every six months, what more could any kid – big or small – ask for?

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