Fairview Homestead | Living in a listed building
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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 you will not be allowed to alter your home or to add modern conveniences. Heritage properties adapted to modern-day function will ensure that they are preserved for future generations. Tips for living in a listed building:

Do your research before you start work 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. It took a year, without us living in the house, to do the initial restoration. 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. We initially used Boet Smuts and Heno Bosman, both registered heritage architects at the time.

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 a 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 ground? 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 the imperfections. We have one wall that stays dry for a year or two and then suddenly it will show moisture again. I have given up – that wall can not handle any painting on it, moist it will be… Because of the clay walls, paintings, mirrors and televisions will have to be hung professionally as the superficial nails will just pull out of the walls. An older house has to be aired – there are no air-bricks to allow for ventilation. On the same note – in the winter I stuff clingwrap in between the sash windows to help with insulation and to keep the droughts out. At least the clay walls help to retain the heat and the rooms stay nice and warm when you do heat them up.

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.

Prevention is better than cure – we annually have the exterior of the house and roof inspected for hairline cracks that will appear as the rain and sunshine takes its toll. When water seeps in through cracks in the wall the clay will absorb it like a sponge and a small problem could potentially become a big one.

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.

Copyright ©       Philda Benkenstein    All Rights Reserved

Philda Benkenstein

I write from the heart, the way I speak and, as my mother tongue is Afrikaans, my grammar is not always perfect. I am constantly intrigued by the number of guests who mentions that they read my blog posts - I would love to hear from you if you enjoyed a particular post.