This cottage is one of Cape Town's Arts & Crafts gems
This cottage from a bygone era in Green Point is a stylish, green sanctuary surrounded by apartment buildings
There's something surprising about stumbling across an Arts and Crafts gem in the heart of Green Point, a suburb of Cape Town that both hugs the ocean and is a short hop into the heart of the city. But this treasure endures - thanks to the fact that it was part of an original farmstead and was sold to the city with single-storey height restrictions. This makes it something of an anomaly as apartments of varied heights surround the 1930s cottage.
Enter Sascha and Nina, one of those creative couples who have the energy and vision to transform what could have been a pokey and exposed house into a sanctuary - complete with an eco-pool and peek-a-boo views of the harbour.
House-hunters would be jealous of how this house fell into their lap. Newly pregnant, and with an active toddler bursting at the seams in their rented space, they happened to spot the overgrown property opposite them was on the market. A call was made to the
agent, and it was theirs!
It was not a project for the fainthearted - vagrants had inhabited the house and the basement was a waterlogged cavity.
Sascha, a "restaurantpreneur", is no stranger to transforming spaces that have passed their sell-by date. At just 24 he launched Royale Eatery, introducing gourmet burgers into the heart of the city's hippest street; he opened a live music venue, a Mexican joint, and most recently a Disneyesque burger concept called Junior Burger.
With each restaurant set-up, Sascha says he learnt new building and design skills - and it's clear he loves nothing more than getting his hands dirty and that he thrives under pressure.
"We had to get the whole house finished in three months," Sasha says. "We had committed to inviting 25 people for Christmas lunch, so we had no other option."
Nina, on the other hand, has a soft touch. Her mother was an interior decorator legend in Cape Town, and Nina has clearly picked up tricks of the trade. A graphic designer with an eye for unusual objects, she launched a boutique graphic design agency with her sister Michelle in 2003. Nina's design work led to the duo expanding by opening Room 13 Collection. Textiles, wallpapers and prints from the range catch the eye throughout the home.
It's her "Deserted" wallpaper that you first encounter as you enter - think surreal, apocalyptic crystals perched on uprooted desert botanicals. Introducing both texture and depth into the hallway, it sets the tone and is a defining feature of the house.
On viewing the house, Sascha says he immediately wanted to do two things - expose the ceiling and paint it white to introduce as much light and airiness as possible, and build a mezzanine to give the adults a space above the toddler madness below. A practical decision created a design opportunity. The grey steel staircase (with a baby-proof step) embraces the wall and is visible from all angles of the living space.
Sascha joined forces with architect Alet van Niekerk to establish a new footprint for the property and then assembled a crew of 20 workers to do the build. This involved digging trenches in the basement to get the water issue under control and turning it into a bonus play area for the kids, and workspace for Nina. He also built a pool so close to nature that it requires zero chemicals or maintenance, and with the help of his mother ("the one with the green fingers", he says), levelled and replanted the garden.
While Sascha clearly likes to tackle big projects, Nina is a self-confessed tinkerer. "I walk past things in the house and make a connection with something else so I constantly switch them around. I'm never satisfied," she laughs.
They both have an affinity for mid-century furniture and enjoy nothing more than hunting down relics in secondhand stores in downtown Cape Town and nearby country villages. Nina also inherited numerous pieces from her grandfather's rambling Free State farmhouse, but it's the minutiae that intrigue her. In one corner a small, glass cabinet table is home to his antique penknife collection and sentimental trinkets.
And the copious terrariums and potted succulents that inhabit the home are also thanks to Nina - themes and hues that are reflected in her fabric designs that grace sofas and chairs throughout the home.
While the renovation reimagined the interior (the entrance hall is now a walk-in closet!), quaint and original features have remained. The kitchen and dining area lead onto a patio with traditional red-brick verandah paint, filled with an eclectic collection of chairs and loungers, and overlooking the new garden, pool and the harbour beyond it. Arched windows and doors and renovated brick fireplaces also give a nod to the cottage's heritage.
While the house is designed for modern, busy family life, these charming touches keep the balance between past and present. Nina and Sascha have created the perfect life and work equilibrium.
"I often work nights, so during the day I can pop down to the beach and surf, and I get to spend lots of time with the kids," says Sascha.
• Styling: Sven Alberding/bureaux.co.za