country, houses, small spaces

Two's Company

Text Vicki Sleet Styling Sven Alberding, Jeanne Botes Photographs Mark Williams It’s a brilliant solution, really. Two houses created out of one, with a communal area in the back and enough space to call your own. That’s how things roll with this historical rebuild in Robertson, a house that friends and fellow architects Richard Perfect and Jan Desseyn bought a few years ago. The pair, friends since university days and now business associates who’ve shared an office space for several years, had discussed going in on a weekend getaway spot in the country. ‘We had this idea of sharing our resources, both financially and creatively, and of finding a big rambling farmhouse to convert into a space where we could each host our friends and potter about doing the country thing,’ says Richard. ‘When Jan called to tell me that he’d found a place that could really work, I drove through from Cape Town to see it the next day.’ Though situated in a quiet street on the outskirts of Robertson rather than on a farm, the property has a delightful country feeling to it, thanks to the view of the Langeberg mountains and the neighbour’s suitably rustic gables in the distance. ‘The house was originally four artisans’ cottages laid out in a square, with two entrances in the front on the road and two in the back,’ Richard explains. ‘Over time it had been converted into a single residence, with a large garden and overgrown orchard; we could both see the potential was enormous.’ It didn’t take long for them to start scheming how they would make the most of this late- 1850s beauty to create a space that worked for them both. ‘The process was surprisingly easy,’ says Richard. ‘Our ideas for the space were pretty much the same and we didn’t have one moment of conflict during the design, build or five- month renovation.’ In fact, the architects knew exactly where they would make the divide to convert the house from one to two homes, and from the outset agreed on the essentials – the addition of a wide porch to marry the two separate spaces on the garden and living side of the house, with two wings to house their respective en-suite bedrooms. The result is a home (or two, to be precise) that feels like it’s always been this way. Both Jan and Richard are fans of classic Cape architecture. ‘Our mutual response to this house was to mirror the vertical lines and accentuate the high ceilings and the lovely tall doorways,’ says Richard. His space is all muted tones, worn antiques and vintage furniture, while Jan’s is country-meets-contemporary, with a fabulous collection of art. So how do they make the living arrangement work, what with spending most of their weekends at the house, invariably with friends in tow? They were conscious of creating plenty of ‘zones’ in addition to their own living spaces with open-plan lounges and dining areas, there’s an exterior area that includes a terraced garden and pool, and a generous porch complete with twin fireside lounges. ‘It’s amazing how, even when both our homes are filled with guests, it never feels out of hand,’ says Jan. ‘The only thing is, we sometimes have to do a recon of glasses and plates – one of us will have all of one thing and none of the other!’

BIG IDEA #1: In Praise of the Porch

‘If there’s one piece of advice I can offer to people when renovating their home, it’s this: don’t skimp on your outside space,’ suggests Richard, who says the design of their homes was driven by the lifestyle they wanted to lead. In summer, which gets fiercely hot here, he and Jan and their friends and family spend much of the day and night outside on their porch that joins their two homes, using the generous extra ‘room’ they’ve created. By including fireplaces they can use the space in winter too, while the built-in day bed provides plenty of comfy lazing-about space.

BIG IDEA #2: Line it Up

Because the house had undergone various changes over the years, the biggest task for Richard and Jan was to take things back to the simplest state possible. They did this by lining up doorways – so that a visual line was created from their front doors through to the outside porch. The additions they made (their bedroom suites on either side of the porch) are mirror images of each other.

BIG IDEA #3: Light and Dark

Richard and Jan both painted the living areas of their homes in a dark and moody hue, leaving the whitewashed exterior light and bright. This is an effective mechanism for creating visually distinct living spaces for indoors and out – it also helps to create a sense of intimacy and cocooning in the winter months, encouraging fires to be lit, and doors and windows to be closed. In summer, dark colours help to keep the interiors deliciously cool.


  • Mike Hendrick (project manager), 083-564-2557
  • Robertson Vloerdientste (jute carpeting), 023-626-3752
  • Cape Dutch Joinery (doors and windows),
  • Hawksmoor Antiques
  • Robertson Antiques 023-626-6843
  • Erica Fahn Framers 021-462-5465
  • Moorgas & Sons (upholstery, day-bed mattresses),
  • Focus Contemporary (artworks),
  • Coco-Karoo (decor),
  • Jan Desseyn Architects 021-462-6017
  • Richard Perfect Architects 021-462-1333
This article was originally published in the July 2010 issue of House and Leisure.