Fresnaye Heritage House

WORDS Debbie Loots PRODUCTION Sumien Brink PHOTOS Jan Ras

It wasn’t love at first sight when Cara Saven viewed a Fresnaye heritage house while searching for a new family home, but a growing sense of belonging and an avo tree sealed the deal.

One thing was not negotiable when Cara Saven was looking for a new family home: an old tree in the garden. She wanted a summer home with character, not too large, close to the sea and protected from the wind. And that was just for starters.

Cara was in no hurry – she had been living happily in a townhouse with husband Marvin and their little girls Idana and Mira for years – and had lots of time to find the perfect home with her wish list to guide her.

When she walked into a 1920s heritage house in Fresnaye, nursing disappointment as their offer on another seemingly perfect house had not materialised, she wasn’t really looking. But as she strolled through the old house’s spaces, she naturally started ticking off the list in her mind, as she always does, and after a while she got just a little excited. But it was only once she had set eyes on the mature avocado tree in the corner of the back garden, its hefty branches groaning with fruit, that she knew: This was it.

Later, Cara told her mother that the house somehow reminded her of her grandmother, and when she learnt that her grandmother’s friend had lived in that same house and how her grandmother often visited her friend there, Cara suddenly understood why it felt so familiar, why it felt like coming home.

Sentiments aside, major renovations had to happen. With Marvin trusting Cara completely with all things pertaining to their home (she’s a photographer and designer of beautiful wallpaper, after all), Cara got her favourite architect Kobus van Schoor and builder Ryno van Deventer on board.

Walls got knocked down, the function of rooms changed, and an entire new L-shaped section with a concrete top and glass sliding doors got added to the north-facing back of the house. Part of this new addition is a protected sunken veranda with an extra-large fireplace overlooking the back garden and, of course, the avo tree. Marvin loves it here. Cara got landscape gardener Paul Paarman to design an authentic Cape flora garden, complete with rocks from the mountain, succulents and fynbos.

“Lovely surprises happened as things went along,” says Cara, “like the amazing sense of space created when the pressed ceilings were removed to be restored. We never replaced them; I just decided to paint the old beams white and let them be.” Another happy find was the lovely detailed wooden floors that appeared when sanded, and yet another highlight was Cara’s interior designer friend Karen Marsden’s clever suggestion to extend the bedroom door openings on either side of the large entrance hall.

And outside is an old frangipani tree, full of flowers, its branches stick out like puffy fingers around the one corner of the house. That’s two old trees: Check.