Driving towards Mossel Bay you take a left onto the R327. Fifteen minutes later and the noticeable characteristics of Klein Karoo begin to take form. As you are approaching Herbertsdale an archetypal 1850s ‘long barn’ looms on the approaching hill. A left turn and you have arrived at ‘Langskuur‘.
Illze Muller has an eye for design and passion for possibility. She has brought the old barn brilliantly back to life.
The Mullers have transformed their multi-generational dairy farm into accommodation that is both contemporary and whimsical. It is more than a beautifully decorated space. It represents a modern family history which offers a glimpse into our country’s past.
Over a cup of tea and her famously delicious sponge cake, Illze shared the Muller story with us.
Can you tell us a little bit about the history of the farm and the Mullers that have inhabited it?
The Mullers have been in the Mossel Bay district since the late 1700s. The first Muller in the Gouritz Valley was my husband, Wouter’s great grandfather’s brother. He built the original homestead (the main house), as well as Langskuur (long barn), on our farm, Uitkyk.
The Mullers have a long history with the development of the Mossel Bay district. The first trading post and smithy in the area was located on a Muller farm. Mr Vintcent worked for the Mullers in the trading post on the farm.
After Mossel Bay was established in 1850 the trading post opened a branch there. From this branch the well-known Prince, Vintcent & Co was opened. They were importers, merchant-wholesalers and retailers. Almost everything in those early days was imported. Mossel Bay grew into a thriving gateway to the Southern Cape and its hinterland.
We still have the accounting books from the original trading post here on the farm.
The setting of Langskuur is on a working dairy farm, yet it is also a luxury accommodation destination, how would you like your guests to experience this dynamic?
It really is all about an authentic farm experience. This is a genuine working dairy farm and all the activities on the farm are the real deal. Although our guests can stay and sleep in luxury and comfort, they will experience life on a farm. Everything happening on the farm is visible to our guests, and it’s also essential for us to make a living from farming.
When it comes to philosophy, Wouter tries to farm in a way that is in harmony with nature and with as little artificial input as possible – in other words ‘low-impact farming’.
Have you always had a passion for interior?
Yes, I always loved art, interiors, gardens and beautiful architecture. It makes me happy to create spaces my family and friends can enjoy.
Where do you find inspiration?
I am addicted to interior magazines, but I find inspiration everywhere. My best ideas come to me in the middle of the night, when the rest of the household is asleep.
Your style is romantic and elaborate without feeling stuffy or unconsidered. It certainly is an expression of your own taste and interests. How did you differentiate the style of the Langskuur to the Cape farmhouse family home where you live.
I could play and experiment more in Langskuur. It’s a big open space and it was fun to plan different zones and use quirky elements to make it interesting. The farmhouse has to be practical because it’s where we live, but I also try to keep it comfortable and inviting. The style in my home is maybe a little more serious than in Langskuur with some much-loved family heirlooms in it.
The bed in our daughter, Annegret’s room, is one of the oldest family heirlooms we have in the house. It is made of stinkwood and yellowwood and has been in the Muller family for at least 170 years. Many a Muller has been born on that bed, including our 87-year-old neighbour’s grandmother!
The ‘Secret Garden’ and the orchard are particularly enchanting. We really enjoyed shooting our Grey Mist linen against the backdrop of the morning mist and harvesting pomegranates and quinces to take home. Have you always had green fingers? Does the farm have any trees and plants that have survived the multiple generations?
I started gardening when I got married and came to live on the farm nearly 30 years ago. It’s something I really enjoy and the ‘Secret Garden’ is my happy place. I think anyone can have green fingers, because if you have the patience and the discipline to look after plants well then they will reward you with a beautiful display.
I also am very lucky to have great silt soil, which is deposited here by the rivers from the Karoo. The original water furrow from the mountains has been running past the house since the 1700’s.
We have five pepper trees and a red karee tree which are the same age as the farmhouse which was built in 1845. All these trees have so much character because of their age.
I know a lot of keen birders travel to the area for birdwatching. But it wasn’t the blue cranes or bustards that caught our attention. Rather your collection of colourful cockerels and hens seen dotted around the garden during the day. Equally impressive is the design of the two hen houses on the farm. As chicken appreciators ourselves, we’d love to hear a bit more about the inspiration for their design.
The first henhouse that I designed was the one in Langskuur’s courtyard. I was inspired by medieval roof shapes and antique birdcages. I wanted something that was quirky and in contrast to Langskuur’s simple shape and the clean white walls of the courtyard.
The other henhouse in the ‘Secret Garden’ was inspired by a Cape Dutch gable, because of the architecture of our farmhouse. I wanted the chickens to be proud of their homes.
What are you the proudest of?
I feel grateful that I had the opportunity to create spaces which my family and friends can enjoy and that our three children call the farm their happy place.
We are family business, in many ways similar to Uitkyk.
Can you tell us more about the future? What is your long term plans with regard to continuity and succession?
The farm is a family business with a place for every member of the family to do his or her own thing in the future.
What do you feel is the future of farming and more specifically dairy farming in the Western Cape and South Africa? Is Uitkyk and Langskuur a template for what the future of farming will be, or just your personal vision and passion?
Wouter believes in the Lindy effect, which is the idea that the older something is, the longer it’s likely to be around in the future. Things that have stood the test of time are the things you can rely on. Uitkyk and farming in this area have certainly stood the test of time, but the way we do things at Uitkyk and Langskuur is our personal vision and passion.