Sea Point Cottage Renovation

WORDS Gina Dionisio PHOTOS Devin Paisley

For writer Katie de Klee, ‘home’ is a Sea Point cottage filled with nostalgia, family heirlooms and buried treasures.

“The house had a really good energy when I found it. It just felt good there and I wanted to keep that feeling, but modernise it a bit,” says Katie de Klee. She admits that, when she first bought this quaint cottage in the heart of Sea Point she never imagined that she’d be living there pre-renovation. But Covid hit and she knew that it wasn’t the right time to start a building project. Instead, she decided to move in with just a sleeping bag, a tiny fridge and a camping stove. “It was very basic living but it gave me proper bonding time with the house,” she says.

“I lived there for three months during hard lockdown and then managed to catch a flight home to England in June 2020. The time I spent alone with the house changed a lot of what I had planned to do. It gave me the opportunity to notice where the sun came in through the windows and which side of the house was quieter.”

When Katie made her way back to Cape Town in January 2021 her plans for the renovation were quite different to what they had been the previous year. There were a few new structural changes that she wanted to make to the cottage, namely opening up the kitchen to create an open-plan living area, using of the height of the pitch of the roof and connecting the front of the house to the back. “The original house had the two bedrooms at the front (street side) of the house. I wanted to rotate the space 90-degrees, so that the bedrooms were on one side and the living area ran from the front stoep to the back courtyard,” she says. “Architects Tertius van Zyl and Natalie Gaertner of VZGA were incredible at making logical sense of ideas I had, absorbing all the changes into the design, and making beautiful suggestions like adding black sliding doors to the bathrooms.”

Nostalgia is at the Heart of this Sea Point Cottage Renovation
Architects Tertius van Zyl and Natalie Gaertner came up with the idea to add black sliding bathroom doors and a black bannister to the mezzanine floor to give the house layers of London-chic.

For Katie, keeping the double volume of the house was irresistible. She decided to remove the ceilings and expose the original trusses. “The structure of the trusses is so beautiful (like looking into the rib cage of the house), but I thought the wood might make the space feel dark or crowded so I had them painted white. I decided to put a mezzanine over the bedroom half of the house.” To support the mezzanine Katie brought in two huge laminated beams, but decided they were too beautiful to paint or cover up. “I like exposed materials and a kind of industrial look. I wanted the window and door frames to be black, I wanted exposed beams and trusses. The result is a strange mix of the house itself, with a bit of London and a bit of Sussex farmhouse mixed in.” 

Nostalgia is at the Heart of this Sea Point Cottage Renovation
The mezzanine provides a birds-eye-view over the open living and kitchen space below.
Nostalgia is at the Heart of this Sea Point Cottage Renovation
Skylights allow light and air to flow into the mezzanine – a space Katie uses as a study and yoga studio.

Light enters the house from every angle. The courtyard gets sun first thing and then almost all day, and that just pours in through the huge glass doors in the kitchen – a space that takes centre stage in the house. Katie wanted the kitchen to be sociable and robust. “We put the oven and hob on the island, so that when I cook I never have my back to a guest – whether they’re at the breakfast bar, out in my courtyard or in the dining room. The countertops and splashbacks are an engineered stone from Womag. When I’m in England the house is rented out on Airbnb, so I didn’t want to worry about a stone that needed special care.”

Katie describes the house as a “patchwork of ideas” and the space is filled with treasures – thrifted finds and family heirlooms. “A lot of the furniture is secondhand, and some I shipped out from England. The carpets were given to me by my mum, and the beautiful studio table in the mezzanine is also hers from Sussex. The silver velvet chair is just an old one I found that was deep and comfortable, then I had it reupholstered,” she explains. “Actually a lot of the art in the house is by members of my family, too: the Bialetti, the seahorse and the big majestic cow are by three of my brothers; the oil painting of the egg is by my mum, the apples in my bedroom and blue bananas in the guest toilet are by my dad. There are prints in the house I’ve been collecting for years, I just never had walls to hang them on. Almost every piece has a story, or massive sentimental value.”

Nostalgia is at the Heart of this Sea Point Cottage Renovation
The four black and white prints that go up to the stairs are by the late Thomas “Whammy” Ede – scenes of Muizenberg and one of the promenade in Sea Point. The dining chairs are from Houtlander and the dark vintage wooden hooks hanging by the front door used to be a yoke worn by oxen.

During the demolition phase Katie decided she wanted to bury personal items with sentimental meaning in rubble as ‘good luck charms’. There’s a matchbox buried under the fireplace, sea shells in the floor under the bathtub, coffee beans under the cement in the kitchen, and even a little disco ball under the floor that had been to a few Afrikaburns to help call in good times in the house. “It’s silly stuff, but it makes me happy to know it’s all under there. The house has its secrets,” she says.

“I’ve been collecting things for years knowing they’d find their place sometime. That’s where all the texture in the house comes from”. 

Looking for more architectural inspiration? Take a look at this luxurious art-filled Cape Town apartment.