‘I knew exactly what I wanted,’ says interior decorator Claire Frost of her renovated home in a leafy Joburg suburb. ‘I pictured a farmy Cape feel but was terrified of a “hotel chain” look with a gable!’
Drawn to the character and great location of this 1940s house, Claire and her husband Tim bought the property in 2000. Despite a couple of ‘bitty’ renovations, though, it remained a series of rectilinear spaces with neither optimal flow nor sufficient light.
‘The lack of light probably bothered us the most,’ says Claire. ‘More recently we were also aware that our sons Sam, 13, and Ben, 11, needed more space, especially when it came to having friends to stay over.’ Working with architect Karin Harcus-Harrison, the couple’s brief was to extend the footprint while creating a more liveable flow.
The couple’s brief was to extend the footprint while creating a more liveable flow. ‘We wanted a seamless indoor-outdoor connection on both sides.’
‘We wanted a seamless indoor-outdoor connection on both the north and south sides,’ explains Claire. ‘Apart from a study for Tim and a guest loo we had all the rooms we needed but we knew that spatially the house could function far better and look considerably more appealing, too.’
To address the dark interior, the ceilings were raised to a height of three metres, with the red tiled roof replaced by grey corrugated iron. ‘Generous sash windows and glass doors were standardised throughout,’ explains Karin, ‘and the addition of skylights, plus a strip of clear polycarbonate roofing on the new south-facing patio, suffuses the entire house with light.’
When it came to the spatial challenges Karin’s initial point of departure was the dark central corridor. ‘This was effectively the spine of the house yet it didn’t work well at all. We widened the passageway to 1.8 metres and, as an organisational element, included a bank of linen cupboards as well as a concrete bench and shelving where the boys can off-load their sporting gear. Once this thoroughfare had been rectified the connection to the other living spaces evolved quite naturally.’
On the south-facing side of the house Karin reconfigured the boys’ bedrooms, adapting the long narrow shapes to a larger, more square format. A new shared bathroom was added on, with their existing bathroom absorbed into a roomier playroom. This easy-going space connects to the open-plan, eat-in kitchen where the family gathers for most meals. But perhaps the most dramatic of all the changes is the new patio on this side Running along the boys’ rooms, playroom and kitchen, what was once a stretch of unkempt lawn is now a well-used space with an established farm-veranda feel.
Other key changes during the nine-month transformation included the expansion of the front patio with its new gable, enormous fireplace and pergola. ‘There’s now enough space here for a dining table and comfy seating,’ says Claire, ‘and we used the space underneath to create a wine cellar.’ The main bedroom, which overlooks the garden, was also enlarged and now leads onto a new study for Tim. ‘It’s got such a great connection to the outdoors and, while it’s a private space, you never feel that you’re too far away from the rest of the house.’
Throughout the project Claire kept to her vision of a timeless Karoo farmhouse. ‘We really tried to pare things down,’ she says, ‘and Karin looked for the purest forms of every detail, whether it was a coping, skirting or plant box.’ Add to this the neutral double-bagged plaster finish and generous proportions, and it’s a near-perfect canvas for Claire’s relaxed decorating style.
‘The black and white tiles were probably the biggest risk,’ she laughs. ‘Even our tiler expressed serious doubts. We love it, though, and it’s an elegant nod to older homes. Although very little remains of the original house it still feels like our home. The soul is definitely here.’
Originally published in HL July 2015