Undertaken a home renovation that’s as striking as this one from our 2015 Before & After campaign? We want to see it. Enter our 2016 Readers’ #HLRenoInnovation Awards by sending before and after pictures of your home or room makeover and you could win coverage in our special 2017 Before & After collector’s issue and other exciting prizes.
When Natalie Husk, a property agent in Stanford, and her husband Kevin bought the three hectares of forested land between two large farms in 2004, there wasn’t a habitable structure on it – just sandy-floored derelict buildings without doors or windows that were occupied at night by donkeys and sheep.
Four years ago, the couple built a cottage in the nearby forest glade on the site of Modderrivier farm’s first buildings, where only a couple of crumbly mud-brick walls remained. The project served as a ‘learning curve’ for Kevin, who had turned to building project management in Stanford after he and Natalie had opted out of Cape Town’s print and advertising industry. The result was The Little Farmhouse, a self-catering cottage they let to weekenders.
After acquiring additional land to extend their property to 10 hectares in 2009, and having gained experience in renovating its outbuildings, Kevin decided to restore the unloved 200-year-old farmhouse. It had been home to ancestors of the neighbouring De Villiers farmers, who have owned the original farm Modderrivier since 1801.
The couple gradually developed the property, installing electricity and water and clearing alien bush. Before Kevin began building with his team of six workers from the village, he consulted an engineer who advised which parts of the house could be retained and which were unsafe.
‘I’d been hoping to keep the gable end – it was such a beautiful, thick old wall – but it was badly cracked and weathered and had to go,’ says Kevin. He demolished and rebuilt it exactly, incorporating some of the original local sandstone.
With the help of Stanford architect Maureen Wolters, Kevin and Natalie decided to enlarge the traditional T-shaped house by adding a bedroom and bathroom to either end. The wall between the two small, original bedrooms would be removed to make a spacious living room with a fireplace, and a large, covered stoep created on the site of the original stoep. Plans were submitted and approved by Heritage Western Cape, and work began to restore the house ‘to what it would once have been, only a bit bigger,’ says Natalie.
Dark-stained meranti doors and window frames were custom-made to fit the various-sized apertures by Leon van Rooyen of Murle Joinery in Caledon. The couple ordered handmade clay quarry tiles for the floors from Leo Tiles in Worcester, and the original yellowwood ceiling beams were salvaged wherever possible and braced in weaker areas.
The first room they restored was the 50m² kitchen with its gigantic stone hearth. The original plaster was kept for its beautiful green patina, the result of the arsenic-laced paint used by previous inhabitants to deter flies.
Natalie took care of interior decorating, furnishing the house with ‘layers’ of items sourced at auctions and second-hand shops. With its 10-seater table, sofa and armchairs, the kitchen is the home’s hub, especially in winter when there’s a fire in the hearth, a pot of soup simmering, and Betty the housekeeper bakes bread. ‘Owls often come into the kitchen at night through the chimney, and the donkeys were often at the back door before we fenced the garden,’ Natalie laughs.
After six months of intensive work, the couple moved into Klein Modderrivier in December 2013, exhausted but thrilled by the spacious proportions and each window’s vista to garden, forest or mountains.
While Kevin runs his renovations and redecorating business from Klein Modderrivier, he and Natalie have become bakkie-driving small-scale farmers, with a vegetable garden, beehives, 10 hens, and a flock of 80 sheep that are shorn for wool and supply a few restaurants with free-range meat. From the small vineyard they planted beside the house, there’s a barrel of their maiden Shiraz vintage awaiting bottling in the kitchen.
‘When we lived in the city, we would dream of this life,’ recalls Natalie. ‘I never imagined it would work as well as it does.’
Originally published in HL’s special 2015 Before & After issue
If you want to see your home renovation splashed across the pages of HL, be sure to enter our 2016/2017 Readers’ #HLRenoInnovation Awards by sending before and after pictures of your home or room makeover.