When Andrew and Victoria Zekveld walked off with the big prize in our annual Fix it with Flair competition last year, we knew it wouldn’t be the last we’d see of them; it was clear that this creative couple was on a roll with the renovation of their townhouse in Clarendon near Pietermaritzburg in KZN.
“One of the things we wanted to change was the cramped yard,” says Victoria. “The property is only a little more than 400m² and the house is plopped awkwardly in the middle of this uneven and steeply sloping site. A dark 1.5m-wide veranda was the only entertainment space we had.”
When a friend dismantled his deck and was about to dump the wood, Andrew and Victoria swooped in and rescued the balau timber that hadn’t been damaged by moisture or termites. They wanted to extend their narrow veranda with a deck and level the ground below to create a cosy entertainment area with retaining walls, a fire pit and built-in bench.
The couple started the renovation in May 2016 and had their first party in their new space on New Year’s Eve that same year. “We love that we can spend the evenings outside under the stars, without having to drag out dusty chairs to sit on,” says Victoria.
Any cost-cutting tips? We buried our rubble deep beneath the grass and worked out our levels carefully so we wouldn’t need to truck in any extra soil. Before we started digging, we lifted our own grass, set it aside and replanted it as it was needed. I also used 3D software Trimble Sketchup to plan the space beforehand – this helped to prevent mistakes and saved us lots of money. What would you do differently next time? We didn’t wipe down the concrete blocks after they were built in and there’s quite a lot of extra mortar on them that would have been much easier to remove before it dried completely. We would also use oven-baked fire bricks in the concrete slab of the fire pit – the moisture retained in the concrete turned to steam and caused an explosion! Luckily, no-one was injured and we now make fires on oven-baked fire bricks. We love the nifty benches; were they your idea? My background is in architecture and I’ve always liked how well built-in benches work in small spaces. However, there always seem to be damp issues when it comes to painting them, so we used leftover balau from the deck to clad the seats. What do you enjoy most about the completed project? I love watching my three little boys engage with the space. For them, it’s like having a jungle gym and it’s the perfect place to ‘drive cars’ or balance, climb and jump. What’s next? We’re in the process of selling our current home; we’ve made a good profit, thanks to all our DIY renovations. Now we’re buying another house across town – it’s a real fixer-upper!