Saturday, March 23

Rebuilding with love

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The Lanzerac is open after months of hard labour and a careful approach to restoring a building gutted by fire

In a true tale of a phoenix rising from the ashes, the Lanzerac Hotel in Stellenbosch reopened last weekend, a year after a devastating fire all but destroyed one of the main buildings which housed the reception area, restaurant, lounge and bar.

It has taken months of painstaking rebuilding and refurbishing, and leading the team behind this labour of love were Con van der Colff and his right-hand man Ashley Rushin, who played an integral role in the successful execution of the project.

Van der Colff is the project co-ordinator in charge of renovations and external aesthetics, including the gardens, and curating the interiors at Lanzerac. He has a multi-layered background as a designer, builder and interior decorator.

Ashley Rushin and Con van der Colff. Picture: Hein van Tonder

“My involvement covers most of the visual elements and is not always limited to the exteriors, interiors and gardens. All facets need to be considered to create and achieve harmony,” he says.

“The guest/visitor experience is the complete package and no single item is more important than another. This means we had to look at the smaller things such as stationery, signage, cutlery and crockery while remaining true to the overall vision.”

The main objectives were focused on the refurbishment of all areas, including the bedrooms.

“I also had to plan for future extensions and developments. By doing this, and to understand the property and its dynamics, we had to research the history extensively,” he says.

With the refurbishments of the entire property and rebuilding of the Governor’s Hall after the fire, the team became more conscious about heritage in their approach.

“Prior to this, much of the history was hearsay and not backed by proper research, or research previously undertaken but not in enough detail,” says Van der Colff.

“One is able to do proper research only when events like the fire uncover years of layered fabric like paint and plaster to expose the bricks and enable one to ‘read’ the DNA of the building.”

Because of Van der Colff’s involvement on so many different levels, the combination of design and decor takes place holistically with furniture and art sourced specifically for their locations on the property.

Van der Colff likes to use individualistic pieces. Picture: Günter Schubert

“The best way of explaining this is to use the following example: If a chef plans to prepare a certain dish, you would normally have a recipe. With your list of ingredients, you shop for fresh produce in the village market and source specialist items from trusted suppliers. Sometimes you will walk far to look for something that only you know is right for what you want to do maybe something like truffles that you only find at certain times.

“You go back to your kitchen and prepare everything and add herbs and spices which you might have collected yourself. Sometimes things will be according to taste.

“Sometimes you try something new. Once all is done, it is dished up and presented with a good wine.

“The items that go into a room are the same for every room. What does change are the composition and arrangement. I always begin with an item. It might not always be the same, but I will use it as a base to work from, or it might be a dominant feature to work around.

“Because I use individualistic pieces, it sometimes creates its own problems because no piece of furniture is standard in size and look.

“One has to be flexible when setting out, taking into consideration service and plug positions. These limitations get the creative juices flowing as you look for answers to make it work. With time, you learn to ‘compose’ and apply ingredients to ‘taste’.”

Examples of the extensive sourcing network built up over the years include a Victorian bar display cabinet which fits into the Taphuis.

“What is exceptional about this piece, apart from the size and presence, is the patina it possesses,” says Van der Colff.

“This is an imposing piece and will become a conversation point for all visitors because it is something you do not see every day.”

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