From facebrick to French flair
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Bargains in the smart areas of Somerset West in Cape Town are scarce, and when the cottage at the foot of the Helderberg – in a quiet leafy part called Golden Acre – first came on the market, it was out of the price range Chrislien and Craig Bath had set themselves. Two years later it was still on the market even though the price kept dropping.
‘Honestly, it was the least attractive property in Somerset West,’ says Chrislien, ‘built in the 1970s of dark facebrick and rented out since the owner’s death some years ago.’
‘It was the embarrassing ugly duckling of the neighbourhood – a small house on a big plot with a very outdated look. But it was in the right area and it had potential. I liked the shape of the roof and I could imagine a barn-style front door. Craig wasn’t sure about buying it but I told him, “You just have to trust my instincts.”’
Though she grew up on an apple farm in Grabouw, Chrislien has always had a creative eye. In between bringing up Nina, eight, and Robyn, 11, she has been a florist and a professional paint finisher, and still does a bit of both. She and Craig, a dental technician, have designed and built three houses.
They bought this one in June 2014 and then set about rebuilding and extending on a limited budget. It took nine months for the house to get to where it is now – an appealing all-white contemporary home where nothing hijacks the sense of space and flow, and where the low-key decor has the engaging ambience of rural Provence. The revamp was not a walk in the park, however. During the entire reconstruction process the family lived in the house, staying in the old part while the extension was being built, and then moving over.
‘Living on a construction site is not easy,’ says Chrislien. ‘Sand and wind and lots of workers. You just have to keep your eyes on the finishing line, keep calm and carry on, and keep telling each other that it will all be worth it in the end! The girls and I went to the beach every day during the holidays. Without DStv and ADSL we played old-fashioned games and bonded like never before.’
They had originally thought it would be a small renovation, simply ripping out a few walls. ‘Even the builder said three months,’ says Chrislien, ‘but there’s always a lot of hidden stuff you never expect, something new every day. The old cement foundation, for example, was so brittle we had to replace most of it. Then we hit another obstacle. The ground was full of boulders so big it would have been expensive to cart them all away. We were fortunate to find a stonemason who could turn them into small rocks to clad the walls.’
In the end the house was doubled in size from 150m2 to 300m2. All the interior walls were removed, making a huge open-plan kitchen, dining and living area. The old bathroom became a study and the old bedroom a braai room. They added two new bedrooms and bathrooms, and a 12 metre-long back stoep onto which the braai room and bedrooms open, with a pool in the back garden on what was originally a dead-end sloping grass patch.
Budget restrictions were eased by the use of second-hand building materials. The couple haunted demolition yards and found driveway gates, their front door, small gates and shutters. They also checked out the entire second-hand furniture spectrum – shops, auctions, Gumtree and the Milnerton market.
Instead of using ordinary tiles for the stove splashback in the kitchen, Chrislien created something unique and distinctive using an old French craftsman’s coat of arms she found on Google that happened to have the initials CB on it – the same as her and her husband’s initials. She had the whole thing lasered like an engraving into a large square wooden panel and put Victorian moulding on the top. It gives the living area a distinctively French feel, along with the other time-gone-by Provençal decor pieces that pop up in all the rooms.
‘We’ve put our own signature on this house,’ she says. ‘What I love about it is that while our friends and family all thought we were mad to buy such an eyesore, it now breathes new life.’
Originally featured in HL's special 2015 Before and After issue.
If you want to see your home renovation splashed across the pages of HL, be sure to enter our 2016/2017 Readers' #HLRenoInnovation Awards by sending before and after pictures of your home or room makeover.