Villa Fynbos is an outpouring of personal, spiritual, and creative ethos of Jim Brett, an American who spent his entire career in the retail realm. He had the chance and luck, as he likes to say, to work for great brands like Anthropologie, West Elm, and his last stint was as the CEO of J Crew. We sat down with him to discover this beautiful home's story and philosophy.
His love story with the place he now calls home started in 2004, when he came to South Africa for Anthropologie. He enthusiastically tells us that he immediately knew that this, specifically Cape Town, was the place that he wanted to retire in. Despite having gone to so many places in the world, Cape Town spoke to him and he looked at houses online every single night for the next 10 years. He and his partner eventually ended up purchasing the property where Fynbos now stands, in 2014.
“The reasoning for this whole project is rather simple: I feel that everyone on the planet has been operating at a pace that is far beyond the one that we were naturally built to operate at...
… and along with that, comes all the things we’re familiar with such as burnout, stress, fatigue, etc. and I think that COVID forced us and locked us down with handcuffs and made us slow down. During that time, instead of staying in city apartments, people searched for mountainous, airy environments. When you’re in those types of environments you immediately slow down because you follow the cues of nature; which operates at its own rhythm.”
Villa Fynbos' location is unparalleled, sitting on over 30,000 square metres of land at the foot of the Table Mountain, in one of the most ancient locations in the world, where 90% of the plant life existing on and around the mountain is exclusive to Cape Town due to the very unique relationships between the sun, mountain, ocean, and wind. When you’re in one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, you’re experiencing things that are unique; from sunsets, to sounds, to greenery.
The meeting of Africa and Asia
At first glance of Villa Fynbos, you’ll immediately have the notion that you’ve never seen something like this before either. The architectural concept was ‘African Crawl meets Bali’. The African Crawl aspect is about there being a round structure with a ‘village’ in the centre. A very large round wall surrounds the villa, and there is a lot of circular aspects to Villa Fynbos. Once you step past that wall, you first walk into a ‘moat’ which is a koi pond where a floating deck gets you across the pond and into the house.
Each aspect of the house is jutting out from a circular spine. Each bedroom has its own roof and you’re never sleeping against the wall of a person next to you. If you’re looking at it externally, it looks like a village.
The home’s collection is curated from South African artists and creators, and has been collected over the past 8 years that Jim and his partner have had the house. There was no directive to go in and ‘decorate’ the house in one go. It evolved from ‘year to year to year’ as Jim tells us, and because of this it has a level of soul and richness to it that you wouldn’t usually find in a ‘one-time’ decorated home. Each of those layers have history and meaning, which comes together in a way that makes you feel like you’re immediately in a very special place
Jim’s own personal favourite room in the property is a particular suite on the ground floor, with glass doors and a beautiful courtyard where jasmine is growing all over the walls of the garden. It allows for a unique feeling of peace, and calm that one can really connect with.
Rhythms of nature
Coming from being a CEO of a huge company in New York, this meant Jim was on the fastest hamster wheel that there is out there, and coming to Cape Town, he was finally able to slow down and create an opportunity for himself to think in a different way; to reconsider what his next steps might be. Cape Town and Villa Fynbos are all very personal, and is an outcome of personal experience that he realised he wanted to share with other people.
“There’s a lot of people searching for purpose in their life, in their work, in very boring corporate jobs that they hate and they want to change but they don’t know how. Sometimes you can’t find that answer if you’re so busy and worried about a multitude of things. All you really have to do is find a time to really check out.”
We were designed to operate within nature’s rhythms, but of course the modern world has forced us to operate beyond our means. By coming here and putting you at the back of Table Mountain, in an amphitheatre essentially, Villa Fynbos’ goal is to help you to slow down and connect with nature. All Jim wants to provide is a small nudge, to be able to assist you in reaching that level of transformational thinking. So whether it’s breathwork, a hike, a walk through the iconic Kirstenbosch Gardens with the woman who propagated all indigenous life there for the past 20 years, sound healing, or yoga, or Tai Chi, these things all fit one purpose: to hopefully put your body more in touch with natural rhythms.
Villa Fynbos operates around what Jim likes to call the Four Modalities of the Day: Rise, Realign, Reflect, and Rest. This is seen all throughout the day, whether you may realise it or not. For each time of the day, you’re given a different elixir; four different teas, four different massage oils that you can choose from. These are the cues that they’ve created to make you think about these different aspects of the day.
A special aspect that you may not realise is that the staff that you’d spend most of your time with while staying on the property have been on board with the project since the very beginning. With five actual families living on the property, the whole community is truly a family in a multitude of aspects. Jim recounts a pivotal team meeting where he told them that the goal here isn’t about pushing down their dogmatic view on how the guests should live, or what they should eat.
We’re a retreat, a sanctuary, and we see ourselves as an inverted pyramid. This means we have to lift ourselves up to wherever you’re currently at, to help you achieve whatever it is you want to achieve while you are here. It’s an adventure to a far flung place, as well as an opportunity to look inside yourself and maybe see yourself in a different way that you might have before.