Revamp House #4 - Modern History

Updating a historic homestead in Pretoria to something more contemporary was not without its challenges – but the outcome made it all worthwhile.

Judd van Rensburg
Allan Hayward

Modern History | House and Leisure

What initially drew owners Ruan and Charlene Oberholzer to this heritage house was its beautiful, sprawling garden and decades-old trees.

Originally built in 1949 by then-owner FPV Kruger, the farm-style house is located on the edge of Pretoria’s suburbs, at that time bordered only by farmlands and fields. Today, the house’s central location in Menlo Park and its close proximity to the CBD cemented it as the right spot for the couple. Honouring the legacy of the original home was important, which is why, prior to renovating, Ruan, Charlene and architect Nadine Engelbrecht consulted the previous owners to learn more about its history. ‘That was a long cup of tea with a lovely old gentleman,’ Engelbrecht laughs. 

Modern History | House and LeisureModern History | House and Leisure

The brief was clear from the get-go: ‘We were after a modern, well-functioning home without losing the farm-style feel and ambience. And that is exactly what we got – a well-designed house with traditional farm-style elements,’ says Charlene.

‘The design of the house also improved the temperature and natural light considerably. Because our family is quite active and we enjoy the outdoors, we wanted a home that connects well with the garden. The house was transformed in such a way that we can enjoy nature through easy access and visibility of the garden in almost every room.’ 

While the final product lives up to all the family’s desires, this was not a quick project – in fact, it spanned four years from start to completion. ‘We went through quite a few revisions to ensure the house met all the family’s requirements optimally. They checked every detail thoroughly and revised where necessary until they were 100% satisfied with it,’ says Engelbrecht.

‘Building always has its issue and the biggest one we had to deal with in this project was installing custom-made steel-frame doors and windows. This caused us plenty of time delays and many issues.’ 

Modern History | House and Leisure

The north-western orientation of the site posed several challenges too. As the partial west orientation showered unwanted sunlight and heat into the house, the new bedroom windows were designed at an angle to the walls so they would face north. Cavity walls further reduce the heat quotient from the western sun. In addition to this, old roof trusses were undone and internal walls removed to maximise space and volume throughout. 

‘In order to keep the historical character of the house, but open it up within and towards the outdoors, we included new additions that repeated the materiality – brickwork with corrugated sheeting roof, for example, and a farm-style dam/pool, which mimics the reference to the past,’ continues Engelbrecht.

Modern History | House and LeisureModern History | House and Leisure

To ensure maximum garden frontage and a north orientation, additions had to be restricted to the two sides of the old house. The shallow property enforced the decision to accommodate the new additions in a double storey to the one side of the old house and position the patio to the other, and in so doing, building up to both boundaries. 

Charlene, who owns interior design firm Live Simple, did all the furnishing and decor herself; modern touches and objets were added, as well as her varied collection of art. A prized piece is the Angus Taylor sculpture in the garden, something she had desired for many years.

‘When Angus came to create the piece on site, he added stone to the sculpture’s head as an “extra” because he felt that the space claimed it,’ explains Engelbrecht. 

Her favourite space in the house is ‘the open-plan living area… I love the seamless flow and the light. It’s a joy to be in that space. But on the whole, I love the entire house – we really flipped it around, keeping mostly the exterior look and feel, while modernising and perfecting the rest.’

Modern History | House and Leisure
Timber floors by Oggie create a sense of warmth in the dining area.


‘The most difficult sites make the best designs. When you have set parameters to respond to, your design needs to be innovative,’ says Engelbrecht. ‘The parameters often include existing building fabric with historical value and tight budgets. The changes and additions should be holistically incorporated into the existing and reveal the hidden beauty of the old building – I feel like we achieved that here.’

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