houses, Renovations

How to Marry Old and New

Sarah De Pina; Ivan Muller


One of the main challenges that architect Joe van Rooyen (from JVR Architects and Interiors) faced when renovating his 1930s heritage house in Joburg was how to mix the old with the new to retain the historical charm of the building while also adapting it to suit modern needs and contemporary tastes.

It's a question that anyone who moves into an old home might have to answer: what should be kept and what should be thrown out, replaced or updated? Which aspects can you modernise and which should be left as is?

Here Joe offers 12 tips on this topic by giving examples from his own renovation.

1. identify and respect existing features

'Pick out the good features and retain them. If they've been tampered with, try to restore them to the original. We inherited beautiful pressed ceilings and decided to paint them stark white to contrast them with a dark wall colour, which made them come alive.'

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2. copy the existing architectural details that work

'The old part of our house had beautiful, simple timber skirting, but that part that had been renovated later had horrible 70s-style skirting. We copied the original throughout the house and it changed the feel of the interiors and created consistency.'

3. match old and new door and window finishes

'We decided to restore the existing timber sash windows, and wherever we enlarged openings, we installed new aluminium doors and windows. By painting the new aluminium matte white, we were able to match it to the existing timber (also white) and therefore create uniformity in design.'

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4. don't be afraid to introduce modern details

'For example, we used modern joinery throughout - flat panel duco or oak veneer - to add interest to the interiors rather than trying to duplicate the joinery that would have been used when the house was originally built.'

5. improve the indoor-outdoor flow

'Older homes often have a weak link with the garden and surrounding landscape. Be sensitive but don't be afraid to enlarge windows and other openings to let in natural light and to open the house up to the outdoors. You can also introduce contemporary elements like skylights to your old home - natural light can do wonders for an old interior.'

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6. update the kitchen to suit modern needs

'Kitchens in old homes are always outdated, and this is the best place to park your money. Keep the design clean and functional, and to prevent it from appearing dated in the future, stick to classic finishes and detailing.'

7. replace all ironmongery

'Update the ironmongery on old doors and windows. Sometimes a new handle on an old door can do wonders for it.'

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8. modernise the light fittings

'Old houses typically have simple, inefficient lighting layouts. Consider the structure and balance of the house, and try to conceal fittings that do not work and replace old ones with simple modern fittings. Light fittings should be contemporary and sexy, especially against pressed ceilings.'

9. insulate properly

'Older homes are generally cold. Carefully look at the insulation in your roof (and check for leaks at the same time) and introduce insulating underlays or boards to make the structure more energy efficient.'

10. consult an electrician

'Seek help from a professional to check the existing wiring in the house so that you don't land up with illegal wiring.'

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11. replace energy-inefficient fireplaces

'You want the heat generated by a fireplace to flow into the house and not up the chimney into the air, so replace energy-inefficient fireplaces with closed cassette wood-burning ones. Consider the detailing: often you can fit a modern unit into the existing mantelpiece.'

12. have fun

'Old homes are full of character and history - have fun and don’t fight this.'


See more of Joe van Rooyen's Parktown home in our June 2016 issue.