12 Feb Living in a listed building
We bought Fairview in 1994 and took up the challenge to restore this historic George landmark. People often express their surprise that we had the property listed immediately after we bought it. There is a general misconception that when you buy a heritage property (listed or unlisted) you will not be allowed to alter your home or to add modern conveniences.
Do your research before you start as this will help you understand the important and historic features of your property. We contacted family members (among them an 84-year-old great-granddaughter of Koos and Miems Stander. Her mother lived at Fairview from age 4 and told many precious stories about day to day life to her daughter, who then passed it on to us in a 13-page letter). We also spend hours going through the archives at the local library.
A common mistake is to buy a heritage property and think you are going to do it up in your spare time. There is upkeep on any home, but the truth is that the upkeep on a heritage building is far more expensive and technical than on a modern building. For us, waterproofing of the clay walls proved to be a major challenge, as was the stripping of the many layers of paint to expose the lovely wood again (upstairs we chose to keep the wood painted white). All the plumbing and electric wiring had to be redone and our roof had to be replaced – it would have been totally unrealistic to think that this was a project that could be done while still living in the home.
Find an architect and builder who have an interest in heritage buildings and understands the law regarding heritage building restoration and renovation.
Stay true to the heart of your home: unsympathetic additions, alterations, and repairs to historic buildings can be reversed. This will ensure the original plan, form or appearance of the building isn’t lost forever – for example, we removed a double garage attached to the historic building and altered the square Georgian shape of the original building. This approach is often more expensive, but will ultimately help to protect the character of your home.
Use traditional building materials wherever possible as original historic materials are unique and make a major contribution to the character and significance of a building. The four chimneys and fireplaces needed radical repairs – two of them we replaced with antique Victorian fireplaces in a similar style that we sourced in Cape Town. Most of the light fittings were removed and had to be replaced with antique ones again. No material remains in perfect condition and sometimes the damage is beyond restoration – eight of our windows had to be replaced and were meticulously duplicated using the old frames as templates. Modern technology and materials can sometimes be necessary, but I would recommend expert advice to ensure compatibility.
In 2013 we replaced two windows with two doors in an upstairs bedroom – we opted for aluminium after we saw this successfully applied in an historic hotel in Sea Point. The decorative beading elements were perfectly done, but unfortunately the colour of the aluminium should have been ‘winter-white’ and not stark white as you would have in a shower door. I am still unhappy with the end result and will probably at some stage have the doors refitted.
Recording: some kinds of work, especially where they involve digging beneath floorboards or entering wall cavities behind modern wall finishes, offer an opportunity to learn more about your home. Take every opportunity to record any historic material or features of interest. When we removed the paint from the doors we found the remnants of decorative stain work similar to that found on the doors of Langenhoven’s home in Oudshoorn.
Do not look at the building in isolation. When we bought the 3800m² property it was immediately put to us that we could make some money by subdividing – can you imagine a house the size of Fairview on a post stamp sized grounds? In the long run, it would have diminished the value of the property far more than the money we could have made by cutting up the grounds and Desmond would not have been able to develop our beautiful gardens.
Accept that restoration will be an ongoing process. In 2013 we embarked on yet another phase, this time renovation more than restoration. New garages were built for private use at the Smith Street entrance, a staircase was added to the inner courtyard to give access to two upstairs guest rooms, the little storeroom below the swimming pool was restored and turned into a small guest room and 4 of the bedrooms were renovated and re-decorated.
Every year we seem to embark on some major project. The fact that we run a guest house from home does help in financing and justifying the expense of ongoing renovation and upkeep.
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