houses

Somerset West retreat


Text Kim Chaloner Styling and photographs Henrique Wilding Assistant Tina Cloete Pauline Wever is not one to draw attention to herself. ‘I am not at all interesting,’ she insists, as she slices a lemon to garnish her glass of water. It’s one of several shiny yellow fruits in a nostalgic ceramic bowl atop the raw, refectory-like kitchen table in her home in the Cape’s Somerset West. Later her sister, Nelia de Wet, who owns decor store Gister – also in Somerset West – will drop by, and Pauline will offer biscotti and espresso in dainty cups and saucers. Which would all lead a visitor to conclude that in this home even the most impromptu event is a special occasion, and that, actually, everything about Pauline is interesting. Set on an idyllic French-named avenue in the town, it’s hard to imagine that Pauline’s home was once a stock-standard 1970s facebrick house. She and her husband, Henk, came across it four years ago and recognised its hidden potential. It had been built at a time when it was customary to have small, separate rooms. But after a radical renovation undertaken before the Wevers moved in, these gave way to an open living area, a new sunroom and an outdoor entertainment area. ‘We wanted an open-plan, light-filled space with an easy flow to suit the whole family’s needs,’ says Henk, who enlisted the help of architect Alwyn van Wyk. The couple has been working their magic ever since – perfecting, shaping, detailing. The whole house was rewired, and new plugs and points for hanging lights were installed; rotten wooden windows and doors were replaced with aluminium ones; and built-in cupboards were ripped out to make way for freestanding or custom-made units. Pauline’s brother-in law, Johan van der Vyver, created the kitchen and walk-in cupboards. ‘We stuck to neutral colours and natural materials to keep things simple,’ says Pauline. This ‘blank canvas’, as she describes it, is ideal for showing off her knick-knacks and collectibles; her love for decorating and for interiors magazines has trained her eye in spotting special pieces in decor and antique shops, from Gister to delightful brocantes in Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Kalk Bay. Everything is artistically displayed, from the cut-crystal sherry decanters on her small wooden ‘Communion’ table in the sitting room (‘where my friends and I break bread together’) to her collection of leather-bound Bibles and orchids greening shady corners. Wooden lasts and millinery moulds, initialled antique linen, white enamelware and apothecary bottles are interspersed among beautiful oil portraits by Stellenbosch artist Shany van den Berg. ‘I move my things around all the time – when I’m upset, and also when I’m in a good mood,’ says Pauline. ‘Henk says it’s a relief to come home to find his chair in the same place!’ In the sunroom, where a grapevine was allowed in through the window and trained to reach to the ceiling, a skylight drenches the white walls in light. Here you’ll find an old steel-framed bed, which is Pauline’s favourite spot to rest and read. It might be a decor tome on casual Tuscan style or one of many well-thumbed cookbooks by Marlene van der Westhuizen, with whom she shares an infinite appreciation for the simplicity and honesty of brasserie luxe. When daughter Imke, 20, who lives and studies in Stellenbosch, arrives home for a visit, Pauline is delighted. ‘I love having her here … although often it’s only when her budget is depleted and there’s no petrol in her car!’ Then Pauline can be found in the kitchen, stirring the love into a hearty family meal, before they all gather around the table, a sense of fulfilment in the air. What a gift. Big Idea #1 Full Length Verandah The couple replaced a small wooden front deck with a full-length concrete slab to create a north-facing verandah, providing an inside/outside flow to the bedrooms and living area. ‘The potential for this outdoor area was one of the main attractions when we bought the house,’ says Henk. From an engineering perspective, it has an additional purpose: to waterproof and offer structural support to the garage directly below, which the couple extended from an impractical low-hanging two-car space into a room double the size. A feeling of containment (plus ample shade in the summer months) is provided by the white-painted wooden struts and beams overhanging the verandah. The circular pillars are new, and mirror those inside at the walkway into the kitchen. All other walls were straightened out. In hindsight, Henk and Pauline concede it would have been easier and more cost-effective to build from scratch. ‘With renovations you don’t always know the hidden costs,’ says Henk. ‘Proper planning, budgeting and, particularly, disciplining yourself to stick to the original plan are important.’ Nonetheless, today they enjoy what they set out to achieve – ‘an all-season home with outside summer entertainment spaces.’ Big Idea #2 Extra Room The couple added on a sunroom for additional living space. They used sandstone floors, which give a warm French-château feel, and kept the interior white and light, in contrast to the original facebrick. The large-scale aluminium doors and stackable shutters facing the front garden ensure privacy and safety. ‘Beautifully ageing’ stonework at the bottom of a wall mirrors the natural stone cladding outside. The couple’s final words of advice? ‘Use an architect who understands your goal and vision, and will oversee the project right to the end. Employ a reliable builder, reputable contractors with good references and a quantity surveyor. And an excellent marriage counsellor on 24/7 standby!’ Little Black Book Architect: Alwyn van Wyk, 083-715-7554 Building contractor: Peter Dunstone, 071-369-2111 Aluminium frames: Status Aluminium, statusaluminium.co.za Antique light fittings: Gister, 021-852-4827 Cabinetmaker: Johan van der Vyver, 082-494-1304 Glazing: Glass Fit, 021-852-1176 Handles and knobs: Apple Handle & Door Company, 021-854-4485 Natural stone flooring (indoor): African Stone Traders, 021-851-0060 Paint effects (outside): Stucco Italiano, 021-852-4080; (inside): Benbel, 021-851-3075 Plumbing Viv Combe, 082-392-3845 Sandstone cladding: Natural Stone Solutions, 082-569-7248 Water feature Barry Horn, 071-750-9822 Waterproofing and roof repairs: False Bay Roofing & Waterproofing, 083-253-0238,  021-852-2094 Wooden foldaway blinds (sunroom): Odds & Ends, 021-851-8267 Wooden structures (struts and beams on the front verandah): Fairbairn Contracting, 084-549-1140 This article was originally featured in the July 2011 issue of House & Leisure.