Historical Legacy of Cape Dutch Architecture

The elegant style of architecture that came to be known as Cape Dutch architecture, evolved over a period of time from the 17th century through to the early 19th century. Early Cape Dutch buildings were simple thatched-roof, whitewashed farmhouses. They were generally rectangular in shape, with a wooden frame, wattle and clay walls, and shuttered windows symmetrically placed either side of the central front door. Floors were made of mud or dung inset with peach pits and polished to a shine. Most houses had only two rooms leading off either side of the front hallway, with one used as a living room and the other used for sleeping. As owners became more prosperous, this was reflected in the architecture and only a few examples of this early form Cape Dutch architecture remain, one of which is at the Kleinplasie Museum in Worcester.

Although there were no indoor bathrooms until around the mid-19th century, houses started to get larger and spread out from the original rectangular shape, to become H-, T- or U-shaped, but were still quite uniform in some features, so as to be classified as Cape Dutch style. The two rooms either side of the central front door were the main living room referred to as the voorkamer (front room) and the main bedroom. A central corridor led to a second living room referred to as the agterkamer (back room), additional bedrooms, sometimes an office or study area, and the kitchen. Highly polished yellowwood floors replaced the mud and dung previously used, and furniture became more sophisticated, with the wealthier Cape residents importing their furniture and interior accessories from Europe.

Influenced by 17th and 18th century architectural trends in Holland, gables were introduced to homes being built in the Cape, and this became the distinguishing feature of Cape Dutch architecture which has endured to this day. Initially, Cape Dutch architecture featured one large gable above the front door, which allowed space for the coat of arms of the family, date of construction, or other embellishments which were meaningful to the owners. The chief architect of this style was Louis Thibault, with Anton Anreith as master sculptor. In time, additional gables were added to larger homes, with the whitewashed walls and shuttered windows still a prominent feature. The Cape Winelands boasts a number of these beautiful homes, many of which are owned by the descendants of the families who originally had them built. With its simple elegance, Cape Dutch architecture remains a distinctive feature of this spectacular region of South Africa.