houses, Seaside

Amazing Space: Umvoto


Text Judy Bryant Photographs Micky Hoyle

Rusting gutters and crumbling plasterwork outside. A dank warren of internal rooms and dead-end corridors inside. No wonder the ‘for sale’ signs stayed up on this decrepit Muizenberg, Cape Town, property opposite the bright blue loops of the coastal suburb’s Super Tubes waterslides.

Nonetheless, founder and MD of earth sciences consultancy Umvoto Africa, hydrogeologist Rowena Hay, made an offer. This old building was within budget and a known quantity (Umvoto had previously rented an upstairs section as an office). And Rowena is an inveterate renovator who has transformed everything from a house in Kosmos to a Greyton cottage.

The double-storey structure previously housed a vintage toy museum and shop, making it something of a collectors’ haunt, not out of keeping with the building’s historical relevance. Research uncovered that it was designed in 1916 by Herbert Baker, Kendall and Morris, the office of renowned British architect Sir Herbert Baker, whose elegant houses and public buildings are heritage landmarks across South Africa.

The Muizenberg house, named Aeolia, was typically solid and sturdy, designed in an H-plan and boasting the pleasing classic proportions so endemic to the architect’s style. However, alterations in 1932 and further renovations in 1949 saw its spacious semi-courtyard area reduced. Decades later, the building would fall into disrepair and be designated one of the area’s many problem buildings by the Muizenberg Improvement District (MID).

When it came to breathing new life into the old house, Umvoto worked closely with the MID as well as architectural heritage consultant Peter Büttgens of BGL Building. And, having already worked with Stephan Lennard of Kommetjie-based Lennard & Lennard Architects and Planners, the consultancy enlisted him to take on the renovation and refurbishment project. The brief was not only to pay homage to the building’s architectural heritage but also to design a work environment that would be stimulating and creative.

‘We aimed to restore the original symmetry and to open up the central courtyard area as much as possible,’ says architect Stephen Lennard. ‘This allows natural light to stream into the double-volume reception-atrium area and gently filter into all the offices that lead from it.’

Windows, doors, a beautiful Oregon pine staircase and the three fireplaces were all sensitively restored, while mountain and sea views were revealed when the original openings in the balcony and some rooms were reinstalled.

The overall effect is both a respectful nod to the building’s gracious former incarnation and a clean, contemporary workspace, a transformation utterly in keeping with the urban revival in its midst.