House Tour

IN PICS | Period charm meets modern living in this revamped Cape cottage

By combining respect for the charms of a heritage building with a contemporary architectural approach, an award-winning renovation has brought this small home up to date

04 October 2020 - 00:03 By Robyn Alexander
The wood and steel dining table has a Formica top, and is a Douglas & Company design created for a previous interiors project. None of the dining chairs match: they include a mix of vintage pieces.
The wood and steel dining table has a Formica top, and is a Douglas & Company design created for a previous interiors project. None of the dining chairs match: they include a mix of vintage pieces.
Image: Warren Heath/Bureaux

Architecture is the thoughtful making of space, declared the legendary American architect Louis Kahn. In other words, it's not always so much the mere "look" of the exterior of a building that is important, but how it organises space - the manner in which a house separates domestic life from the rest of the world, for example. But perhaps even more vital are the ways in which the area enclosed inside the walls of that house is used by its occupants. In short, it's all about how the space makes them feel.

A case in point is this recently renovated home in Green Point, a densely developed suburb of Cape Town. The original building - a semi-detached cottage dating back to the late 1800s when it was built by one of the city's early commercial developers - had some heritage features and the sort of cottagey charm that attracts many buyers.

The new owners of this particular cottage, however, had some original ideas about how to better organise its space. Liani and Jan Douglas are both architects and Douglas & Company, their architecture and design studio, has in the past eight years produced bespoke furniture and collectable design pieces as well as worked on a number of architectural projects. Their work blends a rigorous design sensibility with touches of unique wit and careful attention to detail in terms of the materials they use.

When it came to renovating their own home, these combined strengths produced award-winning results. Arklow Villa III, as their house is named (it's on the right-hand end of a row of three cottages built in 1895) was the recipient of a Cape Institute for Architecture (CIFA) award in 2019. Douglas & Company's work on the building, said the judging panel, transformed "an insular single-storey Victorian-style row house into a new delight".

Invoking the idea of "delight" is a very good way of describing how the rethought spaces inside this modest building feel. Liani and Jan's carefully considered interventions began with lifting the angle of the back part of the original roof, creating a first floor that has dormer windows facing the street in the front, and a glazed rear elevation that allows natural light to filter through the entire house. And because this elevation is south facing, that light is not overpoweringly bright.

Further design decisions flowed from this key alteration, and the house now includes a spacious main bedroom on the first floor, with a bathroom and a private lounge/library space adjacent to this.

On the ground floor is another petite bathroom, plus a further two rooms that can be used as bedrooms. One is currently a work-from-home studio and the other is set up to accommodate occasional overnight guests. The latter leads out into an enclosed rear courtyard onto which the kitchen also opens.

The ground floor kitchen/dining/living area is open plan and, as a result of the exposed wooden roof trusses, plus the consistent use of South African pine to create new solid wood floors and ceilings throughout the space, this area feels far more expansive than it actually is. Light pours in from the south-facing glazed façade on the first floor, and the wood subtly scents the air with its distinctive fragrance, adding a further dimension of sensuous ease.

Remarkably, the front elevation of the house appears almost unchanged apart from the addition of the two dormer windows in the roof, which blend perfectly with the heritage architectural aesthetic. A keen eye will, however, spot the sort of thoughtful updates that are so characteristic of the Douglas & Company aesthetic: the classic Cape stoep was in fact completely replaced during the build and while the new one closely resembles the old, it is executed in a much more contemporary design language.

Firstly, the textured stone foundation walls behind it have been fully exposed, and secondly, the stoep's very typical wrought-iron railing - in this case, an existing feature that was renovated and replaced - has been painted in a deep red oxide that brings it bang up to date. The result is that the facade feels fresh yet comfortably familiar, and very much in keeping with the other houses in the row of which it forms a part.

Over-filling the interiors of this modestly sized abode with fixtures and furniture would be easy to do. But this is something Liani and Jan have avoided: the house contains a pared-back selection of clean-lined furniture - including treasured vintage pieces collected over the years - and some of the couple's own designs for Douglas & Company.

Materials, rather than a multiplicity of objects, are used to add warmth and touches of luxury. The kitchen island is topped with green marble and a gorgeously luxe metal and stone trolley, called McSorley's Wonderful Saloon, takes pride of place in the dining room.

As a demonstration of a sophisticated architectural sensibility - a particular take on the making and organising of space - this house is exemplary. But it's also more than that because of the way it feels: light, bright and inspiring. This is a home to fuel creativity as much as it is a place to sleep, eat and relax; it's an abode in which fresh new ideas will be generated in tandem with the comfort and ease in which its designer-owners will be able to live here. - Bureaux.co.za