Renovation is never easy, especially when you manage the project yourself. Despite the challenges, Alet Verster successfully transformed her poky Parkhurst home into a light and airy entertainer’s dream in four months
WORDS: SARAH MARJORIBANKS – PHOTOS: NADINE DE BEER
Bustling Parkhurst is one of Joburg’s most sought-after neighbourhoods – the ideal location for Alet Verster and Sebastian Chatov’s new home. However, the house itself was less than perfect. Owned by the same family for decades, the 210m2 two-bedroom home was in need of an update, with old fittings and peeling paint. Yet its timber floor and pressed tin ceilings hinted at its potential. As owner of interior and architectural studio Patsy & French, Alet took on the renovation, handling both the design and architecture and managing the project on site. Her goal was a gentle restoration of the home’s original features while creating a space that suits their lifestyle. “There’s a fine balance between retaining all original features and turning an old house into a home congruent with the way we live today,” says Alet. “I believe in playing with the contrast between old and new instead of trying to match the original elements. That way you honour the past while bringing in the current lifestyle.”
They made plenty of unexpected discoveries along the way. “The house dates from the 1930s and so were the electricity and the plumbing. We had to gut all of that and rewire and replumb – it was my first encounter with a 1930s geyser,” says Alet. “On the lighter side, there were also some interesting finds, including where the previous owners who lived here for two generations had marked their kids’ heights growing up, a graduation photo from the ’80s, some antique weights and a broken air rifle!”
Let there be light
The result is a modern family home, now with three bedrooms. Light-filled and perfect for entertaining, it has a central open-plan living, dining and kitchen area with folding doors that open onto the deck and garden. “The house started off with lots of small rooms – there was even one without any windows in the centre of the house,” says Alet. To achieve a spacious new look, they gutted five internal walls and converted the study, scullery, kitchen and one old bedroom into the open-plan kitchen and living area. The dark corridor was also opened up. “We wanted to retain the progression of space from the entrance to the living area, so we kept parts of walls to frame each room while preserving the visual links.”
“I believe in playing with the contrast between old and new instead of trying to match the original elements”
Although Sebastian was wary of an open-plan kitchen at first, he soon came around to the idea. “We drew inspiration from a farmhouse with a generous open plan that I designed for my parents,” says Alet. “Sebastian initially wasn’t that fond of it, but the more we started going to their country house, the more we could appreciate how lovely it is to cook and have a glass of wine while others sit around and chat, and the messier side is moved to a scullery.”
A marriage of two styles
With a little help from friends, the couple installed the joinery themselves. This allowed them to splash out on some special features, such as brass pendant lights and a wraparound Carrara marble kitchen countertop. “In combination, they lend old-world glamour to the contemporary renovation,” says Alet. She and Sebastian also had to find a way to blend their personal styles – Alet loves light spaces, bright colours and minimal detail, whereas Sebastian prefers dark, dramatic interiors filled with antiques. Through compromise (and a shared Pinterest board) they achieved a look that combines bright colours with vintage finds. “We found some gorgeous mid-century and Art Deco pieces that suit the house to a tee at a second-hand furniture store in Heidelberg.
We call our combined style Recessionism,” she jokes. Managing the renovation had its challenges, says Alet. “It’s the stuff nervous breakdowns are made of! Organising all the tradesmen, orders and deliveries for materials while running my own architecture and interior design practice… The idea was to make the budget go further but after all the surprises, I’ll be getting one of my professional contractors in next time while I stick to my part as the designer – it’s also much more satisfying.” In the end, however, it was all worthwhile. “As with any renovation, the most rewarding part must be reshaping a tired, neglected space into a bright home for your family. We feel we created a cosy space for ourselves and we love spending time at home.”
ALET’S RENOVATION TIPS
- Have a clear vision before you start. The chaos of building work comes with enough uncertainty without having to make snap decisions about important features you might end up regretting.
- Get reputable contractors on board. Ask around, speak to friends who have built before, read reviews and visit building projects to make sure the contractors’ experience is of a similar scale to your renovation. A contractor who is out of their depth can cost you much more than you planned for. And if their price sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- Choose a few items to splurge on. Even on a tight budget, don’t underestimate the delight a freestanding bath or marble countertops could bring you every time you see it.
- Add 40%. Whatever you think you’ll be spending on the renovation, add another 40% to that number. There will always be surprises, like finding out all the water pipes have to be replaced or a sagging foundation has to be underpinned.