Business owners Mike and Debbie Frost adore natural light and large, open spaces, which is what drew them to their Constantia house five years ago. ‘We don’t like the idea of our neighbours living on top of us, so we were after a roomy home with a big garden located in a country setting,’ explains Debbie. ‘It was important for us that we bought a space that worked for our family and we wanted to choose our own finishes, so we looked for a property that needed major renovations. Nova Constantia Road was on our running route, so we were familiar with and loved the area but we also knew that houses there seldom came up for sale.’ As fate would have it, one day the perfect property was on the market and the couple, knowing that it was a much-loved family home, jumped at the opportunity to own it. ‘When we bought the house, we knew that we’d need to live in it for a while before deciding exactly how to renovate it,’ says Debbie.
It took an entire year to clear the 4 000m² garden, plant new trees and lawn, and install water tanks and a good irrigation system. During that time, Mike and Debbie planned what the full renovation was going to entail and split it into three stages. They met with a few architects to discuss their ideas but eventually felt that no one seemed to have the same vision as they did. ‘They didn’t really understand what we were looking for and they were seeing the job on too grand a scale for our taste,’ she says. ‘Once we saw the last architect, we realised we didn’t actually need full-time input – we just needed assistance in getting drawings passed and confirming that we were allowed to take down some of the walls.’
After living in the untouched building for a year, they started with stage one – redoing the kitchen and breakfast room, as well as all the verandas, so that they could make the most of outdoor living and entertaining. ‘We demolished walls to incorporate a small room into the kitchen and breakfast area, which has created a great spot for a TV and couch,’ says Debbie. The front of all those rooms were opened up onto the garden and glass stacking doors were installed on the new, covered veranda with built-in benches. Raising the veranda ceilings by 1.5m allowed for more natural light and better views, and a serving hatch between the kitchen and dining room was closed and replaced with big stainless-steel sinks, which are now nicely hidden in the alcove.
When the glass stacking doors are open, the veranda, kitchen and TV room become one large, communal space. ‘All this took a fair amount of time and came with its own set of challenges; we had to set up a temporary kitchen in an unused bedroom in the garden and sometimes had to climb through the passage window to get to our bedroom!’ Debbie laughs. ‘But it was important for us to get the kitchen and outdoor areas complete first, as we love being outside and entertaining.’
That was only the beginning. The following year, Mike and Debbie started on phase two, which focused on the bedrooms. The only structural addition to the house was a dressing room, which was built onto the main en suite bedroom and opens up to the garden, as does the second bedroom. Sliding doors were installed in both rooms as well as sleek metal shutters. ‘We also changed the positions of some of the windows, plastered over the stippled walls, put in new ceilings with shadow lines instead of cornices and added much bigger skirtings,’ she says. ‘We really just stripped everything and freshened it up.’
The last phase of the renovations, phase three, centred around the remaining two en suite bedrooms, the lounge and fireplace, the entrance and the swimming pool. ‘As with the previous phase, we stripped all the walls and plastered them, put in new ceilings with shadow lines and completely redid both bathrooms,’ says Debbie. The result is a completely modern yet understated family home, with lots of natural light streaming in and open communal spaces. ‘Our three children are grown up – Daniel, 32, Drue, 26, and Campbell, 23 – but they all visit regularly and enjoy having their friends over, too,’ says Debbie.
‘My favourite spaces have to be the verandas, the garden and the pod seating area on the wooden deck among the olive trees – we spend most of our time there and around the pool, and really enjoy having the space to entertain and host our family functions. We have had 21st birthdays, Christmases, an engagement party and many other celebrations – home is always our first choice for a special occasion.’
The finishing touch was the interiors, which Debbie and Mike did themselves, furnishing the home with pieces that they love. Many are from their travels: a rug from Morocco, a wooden room divider from Zimbabwe that was turned into a coffee table and many more quirky repurposed items, like the two crocodile collection boxes on the veranda, which are also used as tables.
‘The house is now finished and we couldn’t be happier,’ she says. ‘We really feel that what made the renovation project so successful was the contractors and labourers with whom we have built relationships over the last few years. We are grateful to a handful of really hardworking people who took pride in their work and were always willing to go the extra mile for us.’
This home originally appeared in House and Leisure’s Before & After issue.