Even after they’d bought the house in Cape Town’s southern suburbs, Tracey Burke had her doubts – there was just so much to do to it. But there were positives: the house was large and had charm, was close to their sons’ school, and came with a beautiful garden with plenty of space for their four dogs and six cats. ‘When Stephen and I went for the final viewing, the doors were open, the sun was shining across the garden and we thought… this could be something,’ she says.
It was the interior that was disheartening; a labyrinth of poky rooms with dark wood finishes. ‘Everywhere you turned there was another door,’ explains Tracey. Upstairs was a maze of bedrooms and some startlingly retro bathrooms. ‘The kind of home my great-aunt would have loved,’ jokes Stephen.
For the Burkes, who enjoy open-plan living (their previous home was barn-like and modern), a dramatic change was required. The brief was straightforward: to open up the downstairs area, bring in the light and ‘keep things simple’ says Tracey. The challenge was to do this in a way that respected the original character and heritage value of the house while breathing a modern, fresh spirit into it.
And so walls were knocked down, living areas maximised, and the kitchen was brought out from hiding at the back of the house.
‘It was important that there was a relationship between the downstairs areas, so we could all be in the same space even if we were doing different things,’ says Stephen.
The most spectacular part of the renovation is the flat-roofed, glass extension that transforms the experience of the living areas. The folding glass doors open the entire back of the house onto a deck with the garden beyond. ‘We knew that we wanted open plan but we didn’t even think of this!’ says Tracey.
The modern style makes it very clearly an addition – but the contrast works well. ‘It is confidently new,’ says Victoria Perry, who alongside partner Stuart Anderson, helped bring the Burke’s vision to reality. ‘It was about getting the balance right.’ Council rules meant that the traditional lead-lined windows had to stay, but they could be moved and were used on other facades of the house.
For Stephen, the design success lies in the contrast. ‘From the outside it looks like a classic house. When you walk in it’s completely different to your expectations,’ he remarks.
Courageous in their design choices, the Burkes also braved the renovations and lived on site while they were being done. For six months, Tracey and Stephen, their two sons Daniel, 17, and Gabriel, 15, and the pets (including a new puppy) lived upstairs, accessing their living quarters from a back staircase, while the downstairs was remodelled. Three years later they tackled the upstairs. ‘We’ve stayed in every room in the house; the dogs loved it when we slept on the floor,’ laughs Stephen.
Their determination paid off. The upstairs, previously another higgledy-piggledy setup, now boasts four bedrooms (two rooms became the spacious main bedroom with open-plan bathroom and gorgeous garden views), a family bathroom, den and Stephen’s office.
The fact that both Tracey and Stephen are creative and come from an advertising background is visible in their minimalist and quirky decor style, and this also helped the collaboration process. ‘It was a fantastic project; they were so open to ideas and turning things on their head,’ says Victoria. ‘Instead of focusing on resale value, they focused on lifestyle. For example, not every bedroom had to be en suite; it was about what worked best.’
The family are thrilled with the results especially the downstairs hub. ‘It’s such an incredible feeling to have this space,’ says Tracey. First thing in the morning, when the weather’s good, all the doors are folded open. ‘Our weekends at home are so special. We love to braai and spend time with family and friends,’ says Stephen. ‘And this is where it all happens.’
The result is a successful renovation where old and new exist in harmony. ‘Looking back, I don’t think they realised the potential in the beginning,’ says Victoria. ‘It was slowly revealed along the way. That you could retain the spirit of the old house and still have a modern home – that was the most rewarding part of all.’
Originally published in HL’s special 2015 Before & After issue