Bring an heirloom back to life
When Johannesburg interior designer Julia Twigg was commissioned by an overseas client to renovate a Camps Bay home that had been in her family for three generations, Julia assembled a dream team of women to bring an heirloom back to life. At the mercy of tenants for many years, the home had peeling plaster, an overgrown garden and a dilapidated picket fence, yet its early 1900s elegance still shone through.
The 10-month renovation began in September 2013, with Johannesburg residential and heritage architect Minky Lidchi on board, and Karin Lategan of Interior Architecture Inc. in Cape Town in charge of project management together with building team manager Davel Viljoen of Construct Plus.
The house was situated on a double plot and offered generous volumes but was congested internally, with many small rooms. Incorporating heritage restrictions, Minky, a spatial wizard, opened the building up from the front door to the back, accommodating the client's preference for flow through the living, dining and kitchen areas to the wind-free courtyard at the back. Julia ensured the finishes reflected the home’s architectural history, while Karin introduced subtle modern elements to give the desired contemporary edge.
'For a group of women who are each very specific in their style, we collaborated beautifully,' notes Karin. Julia and Minky would fly down for site meetings, and all parties were linked online, using Dropbox, email and instant cellphone pictures for decisions required on site.
The entire house was replastered externally; inside, rotten wooden ceilings and skirting boards were replaced with custom-made replicas, and the tenants' purple walls painted over. Black-and-white tiles, reminiscent of Victorian homes, were sensitively patterned on kitchen and bathroom floors. Existing doors were copied to exact detail and finished with ornate pewter hinges and handles from French ironmongery brand Brionne, and other details were either painstakingly sourced or made. The continuity throughout the house – pale grey walls, white ceilings, marble and dark timber – was intended to bring a classical, calm atmosphere.
Contractors with a passion for restoring old buildings were brought in: windows and doors were made by Ernie Pauw of Top Shelf, and cabinetry by Mike Nicholas from Multiform. But it wasn’t easy; the great curved architrave around the front door and fanlight took four attempts, and the staining of the staircase banisters and steps (after the purple paint had been carefully sandblasted off) was only perfected on the fifth attempt.
From the upstairs storeroom, poky bathroom and remaining low-ceilinged space, a glorious main bedroom was created, as the client had envisioned, with exposed beams, a dressing room buried in the previously uninhabited roof space, and a view of the Twelve Apostles stretching into the distance.
After the new pool was created, and the garden replanted by landscaper Athol McLaggan, the home was ready to be reinhabited. In fact, the owner invited Karin and her partner Jaco to live in the house as her tenants – an arrangement that’s ensured her property is in careful hands, and gives her access to the house whenever she’s in Cape Town.
In October 2014 they moved in with their four pets, deciding on a simple decor palette of white and grey with black accents. Jaco, a chef who owns Gypsy Café in Observatory, savours the spacious kitchen, with its traditional panelling and marble countertops with edge detailing à la Downton Abbey. For these frequent entertainers and braaiiers, the kitchen is their hub. 'Jaco's behind the stove; we open the doors to the braai area, and friends, children and the dogs wander in and out. It's very well positioned in terms of the flow,' says Karin.
For the owner, a dream has been realised. Her grandmother had named the house Linda Vista, Portuguese for ‘beautiful view’, and the name has been subtly carved into the brickwork at the entrance.
'I'll never forget the day the owner arrived,' says Karin. 'We'd organised a sunset dinner for the whole building team. It was the first time I'd met her. She came through the gate, hugged us all, then stood back and said, "Look at her!"'
Originally published in HL April 2015