PHOTOS David Southwood
By combining respect for the charms of a heritage building with a contemporary architectural approach, an award-winning renovation bought this home – Arklow Villa III – beautifully up to date.
Architecture is the thoughtful making of space,” declared the legendary American architect Louis Kahn. In other words, it’s not always so much the “look” of the exterior of a building that is important, but how it organises space: the manner in which a house separates domestic life from the rest of the world, for example. Perhaps even more vital are the ways in which the area inside the walls of that house is used by its occupants; in short, it’s all about how it makes them feel.
A case in point is this recently renovated home in a densely developed part of Green Point in Cape Town. The original building – a semi-detached cottage dating back to the late 1800s – had some heritage features and the sort of charm that attracts many buyers. The new owners of this particular cottage, however, had highly original ideas about how to better organise its space.
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Liani and Jan Douglas are both architects, and in the last eight years Douglas & Company, their architecture and design studio, has produced bespoke furniture and collectible design pieces as well as working on a number of architectural projects. (Jan is also a director at Cape Town firm KLG Architects.) Their work blends a rigorous design sensibility with touches of unique wit – and, always, careful attention to detail in terms of the materials with which they work.
When it came to renovating their own home, these combined strengths produced award- winning results. Arklow Villa III, as their house is named (it’s on the end of a row of three cottages built in 1895), was the recipient of a Cape Institute for Architecture award in 2019. Douglas & Company’s work on the building, said the judging panel, transformed “an insular single-storey Victorian-style row house into a new delight”.
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Invoking the idea of “delight” is a good way of describing how the rethought spaces inside this modest building feel. Liani and Jan’s carefully considered interventions began with lifting the angle of the back part of the original roof, creating a first floor that has dormer windows facing the street in the front, and a glazed rear elevation that allows natural light to filter through the entire house.
Further design decisions flowed from this key alteration, and the house now includes a spacious main bedroom on the first floor, with a bathroom and a private lounge/library space adjacent to this. On the ground floor is another petite bathroom, plus a further two rooms that can be used as bedrooms. One is currently a work-from-home studio and the other is set up to accommodate occasional overnight guests. The latter leads out onto an enclosed rear courtyard, onto which the kitchen also opens.
The ground-floor kitchen-dining-living area is open-plan. As a result of the exposed wooden roof trusses, plus the consistent use of South African pine to create new solid-wood floors and ceilings throughout the space, it feels far more expansive than it actually is. Light pours in from the south-facing glazed façade on the first floor, and the wood scents the air with its distinctive fragrance, adding a further dimension of sensuous ease.
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As a demonstration of a sophisticated architectural sensibility – a particular take on the making and organising of space – this house is exemplary. But it’s also more than that because of the way it feels: light, bright and inspiring. This is a home to fuel creativity as much as it is a place to sleep, eat and relax; it’s an abode in which fresh new ideas will be generated in tandem with the comfort and delight in which its designer- owners will be able to live here.