In our special 2016 Before & After issue, we showcased six incredible reader-submitted home renovations and asked you to vote for your favourite at houseandleisure.co.za. After a lengthy voting process, the stylish Vredehoek home of Sam and NJ Bouwer was chosen as the winner. Here’s the story behind this amazing upgrade, which for the most part was achieved without the help of an architect, interior designer or builder:
There are those homeowners who prefer to renovate from a distance and then there are the hard-core fixer-uppers, the ones who live and breathe each twist of the home-creation tale. When you hear Sam and NJ Bouwer’s renovation journey, it’s clear as to which group they belong.
Renting in Vredehoek, they began to look around the area for something they could buy and do up. ‘We like old things and when we walked into the property my husband fell in love with the wooden floors and the distant sea view,’ says Sam. ‘It definitely had character.’ The home was freestanding, had one off-street parking space (which they quickly turned into three) and both front and back outside areas. It needed a lot of work – but they decided to move in regardless.
It was not for the faint-hearted. They lived in one area of the house, moving from room to room at each stage of the process. At one point they had no ceiling, the sewerage blocked continuously (thanks to a careless builder dumping rubble down the drains), they had a dust-mite infestation, used a mouldy bathroom daily, and had to rip out the entire kitchen ‘because there were so many creatures living in it’. It took a further two years before the kitchen was completed. Sam doubts that they’ll ever be able to eat another microwave meal in their lives.
‘It’s not fun staying in a house that’s like a demolition site,’ says Sam, ‘but what was great about it was that it really gave us an opportunity to experience the space and to get to grips with what we wanted from it.’
For example, they’d envisioned building up another level but soon realised it wasn’t necessary. The original layout was a huddle of small rooms – ‘it was all very on top of each other’ – so working in phases they pulled down three interior walls to create a large open-plan living space.
The front of the house sported a kidney shaped pool with a dated African style gazebo; the couple transformed this into a chic outside area with a stylish fire pit (designed and installed by NJ) and soothing water features. It’s an ideal spot to sit and take in the mountain views. When the summer wind makes its appearance they hang out on the deck they put up at the back of the house.
There was no architect, no interior designer; the vision was all their own and after they parted ways with their third builder in under six months they decided to get on with the rest of it themselves. The two of them made a winning team: Sam has a stylish eye – she runs the online gift boutique I Do Box (idobox.co.za) as well as children’s fashion and decor brand Aapie and Skaapie. NJ is an engineer who specialises in water treatment with a love for DIY. ‘He’s pretty good at plumbing,’ says Sam. ‘Oh, and electrics.’
If the blog posts Sam wrote about the experience are anything to go by, they loved every challenging, frustrating, exciting moment of the renovation. Weekends became thrilling days of achievement: removing floorboards from their bedroom to use as cladding in the living room; pulling the plaster off a living-room wall to expose the brickwork beneath; building their kitchen cupboards from flat-pack designs they’d ordered.
‘All these things… we just ended up doing it together. We haven’t seen our friends much in the past two years but it’s been fun and at least we have something to show for it,’ says Sam.
A self-confessed homebody, Sam admits she’s always wanted to take on a renovation. ‘Nothing’s perfect here. Even the walls aren’t straight but it’s perfect for us.’ Not that the journey is over. Still to come is an en suite bathroom, a swimming pool and turning the garage at the back into a creative studio for Aapie and Skaapie. ‘It’s ongoing,’ she says with a smile, ‘and who knows if it will ever end?’