country, houses

Rural Reworked


Text Leigh Robertson Styling Sven Alberding Photographs Warren Heath

Riebeek Kasteel is one of those charismatic country towns you can’t help but fall head over heels in love with; its quiet streets lined with typical Swartland homes with their convivial stoeps, corrugated-iron roofs and prospering gardens, with the encompassing farmland and mountains receding towards a generous blue sky. Strolling neighbours greet you in passing, on their way to dine and gossip at one of the rustic eateries clustered on the square, where a lively Saturday market peddles local olives and wines from the surrounding vineyards.

Well-known hospitality industry publicists Ian and Lise Manley, like many Capetonians, enjoyed occasional weekend sojourns in the artsy little town, just an hour’s drive from the city, before moving permanently. Their house, in which they live with their sons, seven-year-old Luke and baby Guy, and three rollicking Labradors, appears every inch the bucolic dream, and borders an open stretch of sheep-flecked land frequented by a herd of springbok. Yet it has all the sophistication you’d associate with this worldly couple: an elegant, putty-coloured structure with neat white trimmings bordered by a formal garden of lollipop-shaped bushes and rows of petunias.

It’s a contented scene that belies the nightmarish year they spent getting the house into its present joyfully liveable state. When the Manleys first saw the funny old house, caught somewhere between the fifties and seventies, Lise thought it was the ugliest thing imaginable. But the price was attractive enough to allow her (egged on by Ian) to see beyond appearances; that, and the 2 000 square-metre property on which it stood. ‘There were no other redeeming factors,’ sighs Lise when recalling the cramped, dark house with its oppressive maze of rooms.

From the outset the couple knew exactly what they wanted to achieve: a simple matter of opening up the house to create a large central living space extending to a courtyard. After discussions with a local builder and draughtswoman, plans were drawn up that included expanding the house to create a pronounced U-shape around the proposed outdoor living area – the bedrooms on one side, and a family room, guest bathroom and a scullery on the other. The couple soon understood that this would be more a demolition than a straightforward renovation. For starters, set on a slope, the front of the house had to be rebuilt entirely to bring the two halves into balance. ‘We realised we were in trouble when we started knocking down walls,’ says Ian.

These proved infuriatingly sturdy, while various subterranean cavities were revealed as the rotting wooden floorboards were pulled up. ‘It’s one thing to spend money on bricks, but to have to spend a fortune filling up strange holes is heart-breaking,’ adds Lise. The couple watched in awe as the project grew in stature and fury. ‘We got to a point where we wished we’d knocked down the whole house and built from scratch.’ A low point was when the roof was taken off, ‘uncovering what must have been a thousand bats!’ Lise describes with a shudder.

‘With an extensive renovation project you have no idea of what you’ll find along the way, and of how much you’ll need to spend. It’s not for the faint- hearted,’ warns Ian, who regrets not having enlisted the expertise of a quantity surveyor. Time heals all things, though. Lise’s vegetable garden is flourishing. The pool sparkles in the courtyard with its comfortable sofas and easy sense of style, mirroring the indoor living space.

Hard-working screeded floors have worn well, while the cement- and-resin walls keep things deliciously cool in the sweltering summer months. In fact, this home is full of clever ideas that are economical but effortlessly chic, from the pristine white slipcovers that can be thrown into the wash, to Lise’s covetable floaty curtains made from dress linen. The couple still can’t quite believe the transformation. ‘When vistors say we have a lovely home,’ says Lise, ‘I have to agree!’

BIG IDEA #1: Breathing Space

Lise describes the enormous open-plan living area, comprising lounge, dining area and kitchen, as the ‘triumph of the house’. Previously a series of little reception rooms leading to a corridor and more tiny rooms, one voluminous space was created by knocking down walls. The couple, who are big entertainers, wanted the courtyard to be an extension of this living area, so they fitted French doors across the entire back wall, which can be opened to create a seamless flow of indoor-outdoor space. The house was extended to create a U-shape surrounding the courtyard, accessible from doors along the corridors on both sides. The pool is thus easily connected to the guest bathroom (keeping wet feet out of the rest of the house), with the master bedroom and family room also leading to this outdoor area.

BIG IDEA #2: A Solid Investment

When you have a budget to consider, be sure to ‘get the shell right’ before splurging on anything else. ‘You can always change things on the inside,’ says Lise. For them, it was all about having a simple but solid home in keeping with the Swartland vernacular, like the all-cement stoep, beautiful archways inside and the swimming pool, with the finishes all hand-moulded by artisans. The cement-and-resin walls and screeded floors add a rustic feel but are practical too.

BIG IDEA #3: Wine Storage Solution

The Manleys made clever use of the ‘strange’ space beneath the house, not only repurposing the garage as a guest suite, but also creating a wine cellar, accessible by a spiral staircase that leads down from the living area. The couple’s vast collection is now stored at a perfect temperature in a space that would have proved too cold and damp for living purposes. Rather than build costly racks, they used easily stackable wooden wine crates, an economical but instantly stylish solution.

LITTLE BLACK BOOK

  • Jo-Marie Huisamen (building plans), 022-448-1317
  • @ Site Construction, Lizette Visser, 072-826-0555
  • Du Plessis & Brink (electrician), 083-256-8183
  • TobieTurck Plumbing, 082-928-7982
  • Revive (furniture and upholstery), Liezel Olckers, 082-777-0322
  • Riebeek Valley Garden Centre (landscaping), Corne Pretorius, 022-461-2002
  • Jill Gordon Turner (mosaic behind the stove), 083-306-0527
  • Mural Maniac (mural in baby Guy’s room), 072-359-7958, muralmaniac.co.za

This article was originally published in the July 2010 issue of House and Leisure.