The Nest.
The Nest.
Image: Supplied

Access, not excess, is the real luxury. This much was true even before the pandemic upended the world, and it is taking on ever-greater resonance as travellers seek out authentic opulence and truly unique escapes.

Pre-pandemic, villa rentals were largely seen as the preserve of the ultra-wealthy, where rooms for the security cohort and private pilot went without saying. Today, that’s changed, as private homes broaden the scope of villa rentals and travellers weigh the expense of an exclusive property against the enhanced privacy, personalised service, and innate character of a villa escape. It’s a niche that the Art House Collection neatly taps into, offering art- and design-loving globetrotters the opportunity to stay in memorable, exclusive-use properties defined by their unique style and remarkable private art collections.

The Art House Collection grew out of luxury villa rental company In Residence, and was founded by veteran travel expert Michelle Snaddon and cultural entrepreneur Elana Brundyn. No stranger to the art world, Brundyn was instrumental in launching Zeitz Mocaa, and was formerly CEO of the Norval Foundation. “A lot of the Art House Collection comes from people I’ve met, or houses I’ve discovered over the years,” says Brundyn. “Some owners are in a different season of their lives, and are now interested in renting out their homes part of the year.”

That has created a new avenue for art-loving travellers — and an opportunity for Brundyn to celebrate what she calls the “psyche of the collector”. “In the art world we are so focused on the artists and curators, but I also feel that the collectors — who are interesting and knowledgeable — have been slightly forgotten,” she says. “And it’s not always about large collections, it’s about how they are put together. Sometimes it’s one painting that carries the whole place.”

A highlight in central Cape Town is Heatherfield Manor, a serene villa set amid lush gardens, yet just a few steps from the buzzy pavements of Kloof Street. Indoors, the house is a treasure trove of art and design, with an eclectic private collection amassed over nearly two decades. In one bedroom, a piece by Marié Stander hangs alongside a complementary private commission, while downstairs the entrance hall is almost overwhelmed by a striking work by Matthew Hindley. In the study and dining room you’ll find canvases by Kate Gottgens, while Stephen Inggs, Chris Denovan, and Nigel Mullins are just a few of the other artists whose works grace this elegant manor. There’s a similar well of homegrown creativity to tap at Dorpshuis Studios in the heart of Stellenbosch.

The Nest.
The Nest.
Image: Supplied

Here, the art on the walls comes largely from the owner, architect and artist Johann Slee. In the Banhoek Valley outside of town, there’s Johannesdal Farmhouse. In the home of owners Chris Willemse and Dané Erwee — founders of innovative Stellenbosch florist Okasie — you’ll find a seemingly incongruous collection ranging from tapestries to botanical installations to works by young local artists. Venture further to Montagu, and you’ll find chef and interior designer Jacques Erasmus and his partner Hein Liebenberg, who have beautifully reinvigorated the 165-year-old cottages that make up art-filled Jonkmanshof.

Guests looking for a more comprehensive discovery of the local art landscape can also book personalised art tours with Brundyn, leveraging her personal relationships with artists and curators across the art world. Such an experience could include lunch with a local artist, a tour of a private studio, or an insight into the curatorial process behind art auctions. “It’s about giving people the lay of the land when it comes to art on the continent, and hoping they also get excited, because I really want to remind travellers of the successes on the continent and what is fuelling the interest in African art right now,” says Brundyn.

Jonkmanshof.
Jonkmanshof.
Image: Supplied

For now, the Art House Collection is focused on the Western Cape, though it extends to a handful of safari-focused properties further north. In the Sabi Sand reserve, Cheetah Plains offers four free-standing villas that each boast their own private collections, while Botswana’s Xigera Safari Lodge lists a roll-call of renowned artists in its décor offering.

And, sometimes, the space itself is the artwork. Take The Nest in Namibia’s 24 000ha Namib-Tsaris conservancy. Here the four-bedroom lodge was dreamt up by conservationist Swen Bachran and artist Porky Hefer, drawing inspiration from the weaver nests found in the region. What’s key to each and every property is an inimitable sense of character, a trait that is integral to the collection.

arthouse-collection.com

 From the May edition of Wanted, 2022.

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