Text Leigh Robertson Styling Kate Boswell Photographs Naashon Zalk Whether or not you’re in the market for a new home, there’s something tantalising about devouring the property classifieds, then spending Sunday afternoons roaming the rooms of show house after show house, imagining ‘what if?’, dreaming of the possibilities… ‘I like to know what’s going on,’ remarks Cape Town interior-design company owner Sarah Curtis-Bowles, for whom it’s a near obsession. When she dragged her husband, John, to see a triple-storeyed Victorian with stained-glass windows and broekie lace-trimmed balcony in Gardens, it was out of that same nagging sense of curiosity. Yet, she says, ‘we both instantly saw how much potential it had.’ Well out of their price range, the couple simply forgot about it. ‘This is a case of a house finding us,’ Sarah laughs as she recalls how two months later she came across the crumpled advert for the property in a jacket pocket. ‘Of course I called immediately to see if it was still on the market.’ It had been sold, but the sale had fallen through. A happy surprise for the couple, their impromptu offer was accepted. The beautifully preserved semi is part of a trio, each named after a Cape lily (theirs is ‘Disa’), built at the turn of the last century as an investment by a progressive woman landowner. It has a wonderfully pervasive sense of history about it, down to the ancient vine at the front door that produces ‘baskets and baskets of grapes’. While full of old- world charm, it did however need a dramatic overhaul to bring it in line with Sarah’s contemporary mind-set and need for space and light. While waiting for the transfer to go through, Sarah, with her mother’s help (‘She has an amazing eye’), drew up provisional plans on graph paper. ‘While I don’t draw very well, I can measure – so we played around,’ she smiles. Using a builder recommended by a friend, it was a quick and relatively painless renovation – ‘a rare thing! The key consideration was how to utilise space so that none would be wasted. The wall dividing the passage from the kitchen, dining room and lounge downstairs was swiftly demolished, leaving a relief of open space. ‘Our home has always been about eating, drinking, cooking, and having people in and out, so it was important for the kitchen to be at the heart of it,’ says Sarah. What was previously the dining room was transformed into an expansive kitchen and casual entertaining area, while the former kitchen towards the back of the house took on a new life as a thoughtfully positioned TV room – still close enough to the action in the kitchen, yet remote enough so as not to disturb or be disturbed. As is typical of houses of that era, a bathroom was located slap-bang at the back, but it simply benefited from a top-to-toe paint job in a dramatic charcoal shade. With John’s children, Hannah, six, and Luke, nine, frequently staying over, each needed a space to call their own. Lucky Luke scored the attic room, from which carpets were ripped up and floors painted white; a cool, private space perfect for a ‘tween’. In order to accommodate a much-needed en-suite bathroom off Sarah and John’s room (there was only one tiny loo upstairs, now converted into a sleek shower), space was borrowed from Hannah’s bedroom – not difficult once bulky old cupboards were removed. The entrance to her room was shifted, and the couple got their modern wet room (and, importantly for Sarah, a walk-in wardrobe). Strolling across the house’s pretty moss-dappled courtyard, with its rows of lavender and restored fountain (it spurts out water as the children’s tadpole-turned-frog collection croak in unison), Sarah seems both immensely satisfied with her completed project and slightly restless. ‘It’s home… until we grow out of it!’ BIG IDEA #1: Kitchen Confidential Once the passage wall had been removed, Sarah converted the former dining room into the kitchen, adding an attractive but functional island where the wall had previously been, and a homely table and chairs to the central area. The formerly wasted space below the staircase was converted into a neat scullery – with the same sleek concrete top. ‘When we built the kitchen, we had a tight budget so we had to be clever,’ says Sarah. ‘But what was important to me was that no appliances be seen – I don’t like that!’ And so, beneath the scullery counter with its utility basins are concealed the dishwasher and dustbin. Sarah keeps the main counter clean, with minimal clutter, as it is part of a general living space. Bar the dual electric/gas hob, appliances are artfully hidden. Next to the oven, the microwave and all the other things Sarah would rather not have revealed hide behind cupboard doors. ‘You can never have enough cupboard space,’ she says. For the cupboards she chose ‘clean, simple’ handles that enhance the sense of economy. BIG IDEA #2: Getting Creative At the back of the house stood a neglected old storeroom that, says Sarah, ‘looked like a little jail.’ It has found its higher purpose as Sarah’s studio, accessible from the main house (it leads off the downstairs bathroom) and via French doors flung open to the courtyard on pleasant days. As with the bathroom, she used Midas’s Simply Charcoal to anchor the space, and since it had small dimensions, she chose to use one side of it only, with the other opening up to the garden. As with the rest of the house, the couple removed all the unsightly, rusted old burglar bars. (‘We wanted to get rid of as much metal as possible.’) Little Black Book Builders: Naz Construction, nazconstruction.co.za Electrician: Ralph Small, 084-703-9449 Carpentry: (kitchen, bedroom) Faiz Garnief, 072-199-3933; (TV room, lounge) Passion 4 Kitchen and Interiors, 082-510- 2055 Bathrooms: Kales Marble, 021-510-4102; Showerline, 021-797-3695 Handles: Cape Handle Bar, 021-797-5490; W&B Hardware, 021-670-7270 Kitchen counters: Johan Coetzee from Stucco Italiano, email@example.com This article was originally featured in the July 2011 issue of House And Leisure.