a B&B life...
Our garden is graced by big trees - most were here when we bought the property 20 years ago, some were lost in storms over the years and some were planted by Desmond from small cuttings and now stand proudly and tall. Desmond's father was a forester and their 6 Benkenstein boys grew up on Forestry stations and learning about trees and forests from their dad.
Desmond's brother Leon remembers life at the Jonkersberg plantation: "It was in the late fifties. Our nearest town was George, about 30 km away. Apart from life at the farm school we children had a fulfilling and busy life. Because of the remote location of the forestry station we were reliant on ourselves for entertainment. Television, computers and mobile phones only made their appearance more than 20 years later.
We had to help with chopping wood for the wood burning stove. The vegetable garden, in size more a large field, needed never ending upkeep in the form of weeding, planting and harvesting. Then we had to milk and care for Annie, our Jersey cow. And only then could the games begin. Our playing grounds covered the whole of the forestry station, the surrounding veld, pine plantations, indigenous forest, the river and the mountain. (Jonkersberg lies at the foot of the Outeniqua mountains)
In such an idyllic setting the sense of time disappeared and only dusk and hunger reminded you that it was time to go home."
At the local George Museum an exhibition in the Timber Museum is entitled 'The forests, our green heritage' and well worth a visit.
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of Robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
- a poem by Alfred Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)
We bought Fairview in 1994 and took up the challenge to restore this historic George landmark. People often express their surprise that we had the property listed immediately after we bought it. There is a general misconception that when you buy a heritage property you will not be allowed to alter your home or to add modern conveniences. Heritage properties adapted to modern-day function will ensure that they are preserved for future generations. Tips for living in a listed building:
Do your research before you start work as this will help you understand the important and historic features of your property. We contacted family members (among them an 84-year-old great-granddaughter of Koos and Miems Stander. Her mother lived at Fairview from age 4 and told many precious stories about day to day life to her daughter, who then passed it on to us in a 13-page letter). We also spend hours going through the archives at the local library.
A common mistake is to buy a heritage property and think you are going to do it up in your spare time. It took a year, without us living in the house, to do the initial restoration. There is upkeep on any home, but the truth is that the upkeep on a heritage building is far more expensive and technical than on a modern building. For us, waterproofing of the clay walls proved to be a major challenge, as was the stripping of the many layers of paint to expose the lovely wood again (upstairs we chose to keep the wood painted white). All the plumbing and electric wiring had to be redone and our roof had to be replaced – it would have been totally unrealistic to think that this was a project that could be done while still living in the home.
Find an architect (and builder) who have an interest in heritage buildings and understands the law regarding heritage building restoration and renovation. We initially used Boet Smuts and Heno Bosman, both registered heritage architects at the time.
Stay true to the heart of your home. Unsympathetic additions, alterations, and repairs to historic buildings can be reversed. This will ensure the original plan, form or appearance of the building isn’t lost forever – for example, we removed a double garage attached to the historic building and altered the square Georgian shape of the original building. This approach is often more expensive but will ultimately help to protect the character of your home.
Use traditional building materials wherever possible as original historic materials are unique and make a major contribution to the character and significance of a building. The four chimneys and fireplaces needed radical repairs – two of them we replaced with antique Victorian fireplaces in a similar style that we sourced in Cape Town. Most of the light fittings were removed and had to be replaced with antique ones again. No material remains in perfect condition and sometimes the damage is beyond restoration – eight of our windows had to be replaced and were meticulously duplicated using the old frames as templates. Modern technology and materials can sometimes be necessary, but I would recommend expert advice to ensure compatibility.
In 2013 we replaced two windows with two doors in an upstairs bedroom – we opted for aluminium after we saw this successfully applied in a historic hotel in Sea Point. The decorative beading elements were perfectly done, but unfortunately, the colour of the aluminium should have been ‘winter-white’ and not stark white as you would have in a shower door. I am still unhappy with the end result and will probably at some stage have the doors refitted.
Recording - some kinds of work, especially where they involve digging beneath floorboards or entering wall cavities behind modern wall finishes, offer an opportunity to learn more about your home. Take every opportunity to record any historic material or features of interest. When we removed the paint from the doors, we found the remnants of decorative stain work similar to that found on the doors of Langenhoven’s home in Oudshoorn.
Do not look at the building in isolation. When we bought the 3800m² property it was immediately put to us that we could make some money by subdividing – can you imagine a house the size of Fairview on a post stamp sized ground? In the long run, it would have diminished the value of the property far more than the money we could have made by cutting up the grounds and Desmond would not have been able to develop our beautiful gardens.
Accept the imperfections. We have one wall that stays dry for a year or two and then suddenly it will show moisture again. I have given up – that wall can not handle any painting on it, moist it will be… Because of the clay walls, paintings, mirrors and televisions will have to be hung professionally as the superficial nails will just pull out of the walls. An older house has to be aired – there are no air-bricks to allow for ventilation. On the same note – in the winter I stuff clingwrap in between the sash windows to help with insulation and to keep the droughts out. At least the clay walls help to retain the heat and the rooms stay nice and warm when you do heat them up.
Accept that restoration will be an ongoing process. In 2013 we embarked on yet another phase, this time renovation more than restoration. New garages were built for private use at the Smith Street entrance, a staircase was added to the inner courtyard to give access to two upstairs guest rooms, the little storeroom below the swimming pool was restored and turned into a small guest room and 4 of the bedrooms were renovated and re-decorated.
Prevention is better than cure - we annually have the exterior of the house and roof inspected for hairline cracks that will appear as the rain and sunshine takes its toll. When water seeps in through cracks in the wall the clay will absorb it like a sponge and a small problem could potentially become a big one.
Every year we seem to embark on some major project. The fact that we run a guest house from home does help in financing and justifying the expense of ongoing renovation and upkeep.
I love a good cup of coffee...Remember, we lived in Namibia for 13 years and there we were introduced to a European style cafe culture. Often the coffee there is served with milk enriched with evaporated milk. We could buy imported coffee brands long before our coffee taste buds were developed to the degree that they are today in South Africa.
At the breakfast table, I will often have guests express appreciation at the good coffee I serve. We buy our coffee, freshly ground, on a weekly basis from a local roaster. Which also means that I can order coarser ground coffee to go with the plungers that I put out in the rooms and finely ground for my Bialetti pots - my preferred method of serving the coffee at breakfast.
The latest coffee buzzword is of course 'Nespresso'. High on my wishlist... We stayed at a small boutique hotel in Cape Town and they had a Nespresso machine in their foyer where you could buy the Nespresso capsules - for the discerning guest who frowns upon the instant coffee sachets that they offered in the rooms - I thought that was quite clever.
But why the hype? Well, it comes down to top quality coffee, always fresh because the capsules are sealed in aluminum cases, perfectly protected from oxidation and light. A perfect cup with a perfect crema every time as the worry about milk, steam, temperature, grind fineness or quantity is taken care of– with Nespresso, everyone’s a top notch barista.
My hot tips for a hot cuppa if you do not have a Nespresso machine:
• Coffee should be served as warm as possible, but never at boiling point.
• Do not make coffee with boiling water as this produces a burnt flavor, let the kettle stand for 1 minute after boiling.
• Coffee should not be reheated as it affects the flavor (which is why percolated coffee standing on the heating pad taste so vile after as short a time as 15 minutes from percolating) Keep it in a warm vacuum flask instead of on a hot plate.
• Peculated coffee should be consumed within 30 minutes
• A rougher ground is necessary for plunger coffee. 'grind' refers to the coarseness of the grounded bean; 'medium','strong' etc. refers to the length of the roasting process
• A good medium coffee suitable is French or continental blends.
• Java and Costa Rica coffee has a fuller flavor and therefore suitable for a stronger coffee.
We feed the hard outer leaves to the chickens and find that the egg yolks are very yellow - I always feel I need to explain to guests that these are eggs from chickens fed on Kale and Spinach leaves. For nutritional value you can google kale and come up with a million sources of information.
If there is any doubt regarding the properties of kale as superfood - take a look these eggs: the ones on the left are store bought organic large eggs ; the ones on the right are from our hens!
My daughter's Dutch friend Anneke told us that Kale freezes well and actually tastes sweeter after being exposed to cold - which means that we now pick the leaves and leave them in the fridge before we use them. You can wrap the leaves in a moistened kitchen towel before you pop it into the fridge and you'll find that it stays fresh for days. The Dutch use it in a traditional winter dish called stamppot boerenkool, which is a mix of kale and mashed potatoes, sometimes with fried bits of bacon added to it.
Kale can be classified by leaf type:
Rape kale (we saw large fields of these in New Zealand, where it is used for animal feed)
Leaf and spear (a cross between curly-leaved and plain-leaved kale)
Cavolo nero (also known as black cabbage)
Try this delicious Smoothie recipe:
1 Oct is officially National Kale Day:
Before starting my guest house blog I had planned to start a blog where a few guest house owners could share stories and recipes, but it turned out that I was the only one who ever posted!
Because I blog regularly I changed to a blog-based site, where my blog posts form an integral part of my website content. I have kept the Blogspot blogging going even after the development of my new blog-based guest house website as it attracts a different readership. I am still humbled by the number of people who read my blog posts - my monthly unique visitors are a constant surprise to me.
I write from the heart, the way I speak and, as my mother tongue is Afrikaans, my grammar is not always perfect. I keep a post in 'draft' for a day or two to make sure that I am happy that the sentiments expressed are ready to go out on the world wide web. That also means that I will sometimes have two or three blog posts that I am working on and I always have something to post regularly every fortnight. You do not want to overdo it and have people trash your posts to junk mail because you post too often.
Another alternative is to blog around a theme. If you live in a quaint little arty town you could blog about local artists. You could blog about activities in your area, about a restoration project, about a charity project that you support, about pets. I know of two sets of guests who stayed with me because of a post that I did about Bull Mastiffs being such perfect guest house dogs - the one couple googled "bull mastiff" as they wanted to get a buddy for their elderly dog and my website came up amongst that of the breeders! They kept the details and a few weeks later decided to make use of a flight special and come to meet our Bull Mastiff.
My posts also go onto my facebook page and selected group pages. It is a constant surprise how often people will 'like' my blog posts and 'share' it with friends. I have found that the best time to post to social media is in the evening and weekends - that's when people have the time to read, 'like' and comment on the posts. Or on a Tuesday - maybe because they have no time for social media on 'blue Mondays'?
Blogging is forgiving in the sense that one can delete or edit posts as time goes by. Sometimes I will start off by just saving a recipe in the draft and when I make that dish I will take photo's and add that to the post. To finish it off I will write something personal about the recipe and there you are - ready to go! The most difficult posts are the ones where guests are involved - you do not want to infringe on people's rights. On the other hand, I do know that people enjoy reading my blog posts because of my honesty and ability to tell it as it is. By reading my website blog posts they get their questions answered: how do you handle difficult guests? Have you ever had guests who you did not want to stay? Do you not find it a terrible invasion of your privacy? Have you ever had stuff stolen? Have you had some funny incidents?
I notice that many web designers put a 'blog' link on guest house websites and then it will read: No Results Found. The page you requested could not be found. Rather ask them to remove the tab until you are ready to start posting.
I do think that people who stay in Guest Houses, opposed to Hotels, appreciate the personal aspect of a B&B stay and I, therefore, share personal anecdotes too. That calls for some funny moments - like when my husband came home and asked: 'what on earth are you writing on your website? I had a friend phone me and he called me 'Lady Chatterley's lover'.
That actually stands for Bread and Butter Pudding.
This recipe is perfect for turning left-over croissants into a delicious dessert, but consider this: made in an individual ramekin and offered as a little breakfast starter - with plain yoghurt and a berry or prune compote? Why not? It has all the breakfast ingredients: eggs, croissants, fruit, orange juice, milk, butter... What about the chocolate I hear you ask?
Well, when I walked the Camino through Spain in 2007 I stumbled on a Chocolate Museum in Astorga. They had a collection of vintage posters advising mothers to give their children the perfect breakfast- a bowl of drinking chocolate. I'll drink to that - chocolate is good for you. The Spaniards think so, the French think so and the Germans took it one step further by spreading chocolate on their bread. (Recipe for home made Nutella below...)
Chocolate & Orange Bread & Butter Pudding
4-5 Croissants, torn into pieces
100g-450g Dark Chocolates, broken into pieces
1/3C (90g) Castor Sugar
1C (250ml) Milk
1C (250ml) Cream
½ tsp Grated Orange Rind
1/3 C (80ml) Orange Juice
2Tblsp coarsely chopped Hazelnuts
Set oven at 180°C. Grease and line a 20cm deep sided cake tin. Layer croissant pieces into the baking tin. Scatter chocolate pieces evenly amongst the pieces. Beat eggs and sugar until pale & creamy. Heat milk and cream on the stove until almost boiling. Remove from heat. It will curdle if it boils. Gradually pour egg mixture over it stirring all the time. Add orange juice and rind and stir well. Slowly pour this over the croissants, allowing the liquid to be absorbed before adding more. Sprinkle Hazelnuts over the top and bake for 45-50 minutes (until a skewer comes out clean when inserted).
Allow to cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge and invert onto a plate. Serve with cream or ice-cream.
I put hazelnuts into the croissants with the chocolate
I use Lindt Orange dark chocolate
If using more croissants make more custard
Today's children can't imagine that there was a time when Nutella was not for sale in South Africa.(In Namibia one could find it in the shops that specialized in imported produce.) My brother's children found it fascinating that their Namibian born cousins could be as decadent as to eat chocolate spread on bread! For years a jar of Nutella made a perfect Christmas gift.
At Fairview's breakfast table I always have a jar of chocolate spread and a jar of peanut butter - for the odd children staying over. But most of the time it will be the business men reaching out for it with exclamations of: 'ah, I haven't had this for years!'
Homemade Chocolate Spread (about 3 jars)
200 g Hazelnuts
1 can Condensed Milk
255 g good quality dark Chocolate
125ml hot Milk
Roast the hazelnuts for about 10-15 minutes either in the oven or in a dry pan over the heat.
When the nuts are ready (golden brown) let them cool down a little.
Chop fine in a food processor until they reach hazelnut butter consistency.
Melt the chocolate in a bowl placed over boiling water.
When the chocolate has melted, you pour the condensed milk in and mix well.Add the mixture to the hazelnut butter and process it some more. Add some hot milk if you find it too dense.
Written by Nelleke Elston.
I am huddled in front of the fireplace on a very cold and rainy June evening and the sound of the crackling fire and the hum of my laptop are the only sounds in the house. The rain has finally stopped. This is the perfect time for a quick blog post before the busy week starts, I think. And what better way to bring a little colour and cheer into this grey day than write about tomato soup and share these beautiful pictures with you…
I never quite got tomato soup until I started roasting the tomato’s, and my life was changed really. Now I’m hooked. In my catering company the napolitana sauce is one of the basic sauces we use almost daily, so there’s nothing as easy as diluting that intense deep red sauce into the quickest and cheekiest dinner for my husband and I, served with home-made Ciabatta croutons, what could be better?
I’m quite passionate when it comes to soups and as I’ve mentioned in one of my previous posts, the fact that soup makes the cut as a main-meal in my books, was something my husband had to grow use to. Soups are one of those dishes you just need to try, throw yourself into it with abandon and gain the confidence you need to make them following simply your nose and your taste buds. Once you’re there, the options are endless! When I think of soups, I think of a dear friend of mine who would ask me the same question over and over, “how much stock or water do I add?”. The answer was always the same,”…I don’t know, about 1 liter, you need to taste it and see”. It comes down to feel and getting the seasoning and thickness just right, so there is a little skill in making a good soup, I must admit.
Roast Tomato Soup
(Makes 8-10 portions)
1 onions, roughly chopped
2 tins whole, peeled tomatoes
2 garlic cloves, sliced
2 tbsp tomato paste
4-6 whole organic tomato’s
roasted vine tomato’s for garnish (optional)
2 tbsp olive oil
1-2 tsp brown sugar
salt and pepper to taste
fresh basil/parsley/sage to serve
1 liter vegetable stock
1/4 cup good quality olive oil (for croutons)
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
Cut all the tomatoes in quarters, place them in a roasting tray and drizzle them sparingly with olive oil.
Season with salt and black pepper.
Roast in the oven for about 20 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius.
In a large pot, slowly saute the onions and the garlic until soft and translucent.
Add the soft, roasted tomatoes and the tinned tomatoes.
Add about 750ml of vegetable stock to the pot and bring to the boil. Turn the neat down and simmer for 20 minutes.
Blend the soup with hand held blender until smooth and add the sugar.
Taste the soup and dilute with the remaining stock, if needed. Adjust the seasoning.
To make the croutons: Tear the bread into chunky, bite-sized pieces. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and roast until they are golden brown and crispy.
Serve this soup with croutons, fresh herbs and a drizzle of good quality olive oil.
Knitting is the new yoga, but actually, the inspirational topic for this blog post is an issue with toilet seats...
I doubt there is anyone out there who is not yet aware that I can now claim the title GRANDMOTHER. It is with the greatest of self-discipline that I do not insist that every guest looks at photos on my mobile phone before they are allowed to enjoy breakfast. I became a champion knitter overnight - shortly after Luella's birth I woke up with tennis elbow pain and suddenly realised: I just finished my 6th jersey for 2-month-old Luella - no wonder!!
But back to toilets...
At Fairview we take the comfort of our guests to heart. So when a guest tells me that the toilet seat is uncomfortable, I am not going to ignore that complaint. I am going to use that toilet to get up to speed with the level of comfort my guests are expected to enjoy (or not) when they spend a penny. Initially, I thought he was exaggerating, but then I reminded myself that I am far better padded than he seemed to have been and he mentioned that he liked to read his newspaper on the loo, so maybe sit a few more minutes. Being a multi-tasker, I sat, mentally making to-do lists in my mind and yes, the discomfort grew proportionately to the length of my to-do list. Not excruciatingly uncomfortable, but yes, uncomfortable.
I am forever upgrading, replacing, renewing, all the time beating myself up about how I can ensure that my guests are comfortable because let's face it - when they stay at Fairview there are enough little idiosyncrasies typical to a house over 150 years old that they have to put up with. This particular bathroom had one of those old-fashioned toilets with a high cistern that you flush by pulling a chain and about 3 months ago I decided to replace it as it was just too noisy and used too much water. Quirkiness had to make way for practicality.
I remember when I bought the toilet I was skeptical about the square shape of the toilet seat, but because the toilet had to cover the markings made by the old toilet and had to have a section that covered the ugly drain pipes at the back that was really the best choice. Not in my wildest dreams would I have thought it necessary to work up the row of toilets on display to find the most comfortable one. Yet, that is what I will do when I buy the new toilet for the Banksia Annex in the making. In the meantime - who has a knitting pattern for a padded toilet seat cover?!
Bed and breakfasts and guest houses are often run by the owners - in South Africa they mostly have 5 or less rooms in the case of Guest Houses and the majority of Bed and Breakfast operations have 3 or less rooms. Because of limited staff , check in at a guest house is often by appointment prior to 3 pm and you are definitely expected to arrive before 7 pm unless a late arrival has been previously arranged with your host. I have to get up at 6 am most mornings, so it is just not possible for me to sit up until midnight waiting on guests to arrive. For security reason we also do not take 'off street' bookings after 7 pm.
right of admission reserved...
Ask any guest house owner what the most frustrating aspect of running an accommodation establishment is and they will say that it is waiting for guests to arrive and even worse : 'No Shows'. For the unenlightened - that is when a person makes a booking and changes his/her plans without notifying the establishment. If you have a 4 bedroom B&B that represents 25% of your occupancy lost. For me it is not so much the 25% occupancy lost as the time spent waiting on that guest ; the waste of keeping the room warm, the geyser running ; the disregard shown toward the B&B host.
When you phone the next day the excuses range from: 'It is not my fault as I told my secretary/wife/agent to cancel and they forgot', 'I tried to phone, but your line was busy', 'I forgot my directions so I booked into another B&B', 'I never paid a deposit so I did not think that it was a confirmed booking'. One evening I invited two couples who both owned accommodation establishments over for dinner and in the course of a conversation it turned out that we were all three establishments expecting the same people to arrive for the long weekend! Because of the frustrations of no-shows I have made it our policy that bookings are only finally confirmed on receiving a 50% deposit.
The flip side of the coin would be to have a guest arrive at your door thinking they have a confirmed booking to find that there is 'no place at the inn'. In 19 years of running a B&B this has only happened to me twice. The first time was many years ago - before the use of computerised booking systems when bookings were still jotted down in a diary. The guests arrived at our door on the 28th December and I had written them in for a week later. A strict deposit policy can also boomerang on you, as I recently found - by the time the guest paid the deposit we had presumed they were not taking the room anymore. Frustration all around.
Please, please, please do not let the Australians who booked two rooms for a week over Christmas and who never answered our e-mail requests for a deposit arrive on our doorstep under the impression that they have a reservation...
he grounds on which Fairview stands was first registered in 1864 in the names of Messrs. Swemmer and Meyer, directors of the first bank in George. When these two gentlemen found themselves in financial difficulty in 1894, they sold the farm to Koos and Miems Stander.
The Standers had sold their farm at Victoria Heights and bought Fairview so that their 8 children could go to school from home. In those days it was a big apple and cattle farm on the outskirts of George.
Two sons became attorneys, one son qualified in Scotland as a dentist and all 5 daughters qualified as teachers. To get to Wellington Teachers College the girls traveled by horse-drawn cart to Mossel Bay, from there by ship to Cape Town and then by train to Wellington! Koos Stander was Mayor of George from 1926 to 1932 and the house stayed in the Stander family from 1894 to 1974.
In those days it was a big apple and cattle farm on the outskirts of George; today it is centrally situated in the suburb of Bergsig and the grounds measure 3800m².
In 1994 we moved back to South Africa after a 13 year stay in Namibia. We bought Fairview and took up the challenge to restore this historic George landmark – always bearing in mind that the challenge in restoring and maintaining any old building remains staying true to the authenticity of the structure. We therefore removed a garage that altered the square Georgian shape of the original building. Eight windows had to be replaced and were meticulously duplicated using the old frames as templates. The time consuming restoration was contracted out to a specialist team and took nine months to complete. Waterproofing of the clay walls proved to be a major challenge, as was the stripping of the many layers of paint to expose the lovely wood again. All the plumbing and electric wiring had to be redone, the 4 chimneys and fireplaces needed radical repairs, and most of the light fittings were removed and had to be replaced with antique ones again.
Below are two very old photo's showing that the house originally had a pitch roof on the front section. There is no record of when the facade was changed to that of the typical flat-roofed Cape Georgian style. As not even the 82 year old Stander granddaughter could remember this pitched roof, it was decided not to replace during the 1996 restoration.
In 2013 we embarked on yet another phase, this time renovation more than restoration. New garages were built for private use at the Smith Street entrance, a spiral staircase was added to the inner courtyard to give access to two upstairs guest rooms, the little storeroom below the swimming pool was restored and turned into a small guest room and 4 of the bedrooms were renovated and re-decorated.
The house is now fully restored to its long lost splendor and elegance and is listed with the National Monument’s Council as well as the local George Heritage Trust.
Desmond is passionate about his garden - work on the garden is an ongoing labor of love. The front garden is more formal in structure - in keeping with the formal Cape Georgian style of the house. The flowerbeds on the Eastern side of the house is more informal. At the back of the house we have fruit trees, a herb garden, vegetable garden and a small orchard. We also keep our own chickens to keep the kitchen in supply of fresh eggs.
About the blog
This is the story of our house, lovingly restored and shared with guests and family since 1995.