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5 top renovation tips from architect pieter-ernst mare

Elsa Young
A work by Peter Mammes hangs above the bed in the main bedroom. Crisp white linen, walls and curtains offset the room’s black accents.


Architect Pieter-Ernst Mare’s Johannesburg apartment might be in the heart of Sandton’s CBD, but you’d never guess it. It’s not in a residential skyscraper, but rather an artefact of the past – one of 25 double-storey units surrounding a private park that somehow persists in the heart of the glass-and-iron jungle. ‘It doesn’t feel like Sandton,’ says Pieter-Ernst. In fact, once you’re through the front door, leafy trees screen off the looming towers all around and you could be anywhere.

Mare’s wide-ranging interests and clever use of neutrals make his home a resolved showcase for his art and collectibles. He shares five points to consider before renovating.

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1. look at the wall structure and for possible signs of damp

If you are planning on removing walls in your renovation, you need to first have them assessed by a professional. Load-bearing walls, for example, are expensive to knock down, which may not even be possible if you are on the ground floor. Also check for signs of damp on the interior and exterior walls, as repairing such issues can be pricey if there’s a large root cause.

2. feel out the floors

Check if there are any changes in floor levels between different spaces. In some previously renovated properties where adjacent apartments have been incorporated, there can be a slight difference between the levels, which is problematic when you are trying to create an open-plan space. If there is a level discrepancy, a good contractor will be able to fix it.   

3. plan your layout around existing services

The joy of renovating is adapting rooms to suit your style, but remember important elements such as water, electrics and drainage. While the first two can easily be rerouted, drainage only flows downhill, so if you clip into an existing drainage system that serves the rest of the complex or upper floors, reshuffling spaces is not an option.

4. focus on furniture

Think about the pieces you want to keep forever, such as family heirlooms, and sell the rest. New items can be bought either just before moving in or over an extended period of time. It is important that the furniture you finally position works within the volumes you’ve created and that your new areas are not cluttered.

5. ask, ask and ask some more

Speak to your agent about what the body corporate allows in terms of alterations and additions. Don’t be afraid to seek valuable, professional advice from an architect, interior space planner or engineer – these professionals will be happy to assist on a negotiated hourly charge or won’t charge at all if they are to be considered for the design of the total project. They’ll also be able to assist with a ballpark figure for your renovations, which may or may not influence your final decision to purchase.

In his Sandton home, Pieter-Ernst’s black-and-white colour scheme makes it easy to layer and edit art, furnishings and objets. Around the table in the dining area are Masters chairs by Philippe Starck and Eugeni Quitllet for Kartell and a pair of French Bistro armchairs. The pendant light is from Con Amore.


White walls add a sense of space and allow the furnishings and art to pop. In the study, a Barcelona chair by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich and a Chesterfield sofa share the space with works that include ‘Elephantile’ by artist Richard Aaron and an enlarged photograph of Johannesburg CBD from the archives at Museum Africa.