Bar­gains in the smart ar­eas of Som­er­set West in Cape Town are scarce, and when the cot­tage at the foot of the Helder­berg – in a quiet leafy part called Golden Acre – first came on the mar­ket, it was out of the price range Chris­lien and Craig Bath had set them­selves. Two years later it was still on the mar­ket even though the price kept drop­ping.

‘Hon­estly, it was the least at­trac­tive prop­erty in Som­er­set West,’ says Chris­lien, ‘built in the 1970s of dark face­brick and rented out since the owner’s death some years ago. It was the em­bar­rass­ing ugly duck­ling of the neigh­bour­hood – a small house on a big plot with a very out­dated look. But it was in the right area and it had po­ten­tial. I liked the shape of the roof and I could imag­ine a barn-style front door. Craig wasn’t sure about buy­ing it but I told him, “You just have to trust my in­stincts.” ’

Though she grew up on an ap­ple farm in Grabouw, Chris­lien has al­ways had a cre­ative eye. In be­tween bring­ing up Nina, eight, and Robyn, 11, she has been a florist and a pro­fes­sional paint fin­isher, and still does a bit of both. She and Craig, a den­tal tech­ni­cian, have de­signed and built three houses.

They bought this one in June last year and then set about re­build­ing and ex­tend­ing on a lim­ited bud­get. It took nine months for the house to get to where it is now – an ap­peal­ing all-white con­tem­po­rary home where noth­ing hi­jacks the sense of space and flow, and where the low-key decor has the en­gag­ing am­bi­ence of ru­ral Provence. The re­vamp was not a walk in the park, how­ever. Dur­ing the en­tire re­con­struc­tion process the fam­ily lived in the house, stay­ing in the old part while the ex­ten­sion was be­ing built, and then mov­ing over.

‘Liv­ing on a con­struc­tion site is not easy,’ says Chris­lien. ‘Sand and wind and lots of work­ers. You just have to keep your eyes on the fin­ish­ing line, keep calm and carry on, and keep telling each other that it will all be worth it in the end! The girls and I went to the beach ev­ery day dur­ing the hol­i­days. With­out Dstv and ADSL we played old-fash­ioned games and bonded like never be­fore.’

They had orig­i­nally thought it would be a small ren­o­va­tion, sim­ply rip­ping out a few walls. ‘Even the builder said three months,’ says Chris­lien, ‘but there’s al­ways a lot of hid­den stuff you never ex­pect, some­thing new ev­ery day. The old ce­ment foun­da­tion, for ex­am­ple, was so brit­tle we had to re­place most of it. Then we hit another ob­sta­cle. The ground was full of boul­ders so big it would have been ex­pen­sive to cart them all away. We were for­tu­nate to find a stone­ma­son who could turn them into small rocks to clad the walls.’

In the end the house was dou­bled in size from 150m2 to 300m2. All the in­te­rior walls were re­moved, mak­ing a huge open-plan kitchen, din­ing and liv­ing area. The old bath­room be­came a study and the old bed­room a braai room. They added two new bed­rooms and bath­rooms, and a 12 me­tre-long back stoep onto which the braai room and bed­rooms open, with a pool in the back gar­den on what was orig­i­nally a dead-end slop­ing grass patch.

Bud­get re­stric­tions were eased by the use of sec­ond-hand build­ing ma­te­ri­als. The cou­ple haunted de­mo­li­tion yards and found drive­way gates, their front door, small gates and shut­ters. They also checked out the en­tire sec­ond-hand fur­ni­ture spec­trum – shops, auc­tions, Gumtree and the Mil­ner­ton mar­ket.

In­stead of us­ing or­di­nary tiles for the stove splash­back in the kitchen Chris­lien cre­ated some­thing unique and dis­tinc­tive

ABOVE Bella the bull­dog keeps Nina and Robyn

amused in the liv­ing area that was once a bed­room and be­came open plan with the kitchen when the unattrac­tive face­brick wall was

re­moved. The Leo chairs are from Wey­landts (wey­, the leather Ch­ester­field sofa

was found on Gumtree, the French sofa was bought at My Auc­tion (myauc­ and the ar­moire is from Gis­ter. Chris­lien used bluegum poles to make the lad­der hold­ing kitchen linen.

Plas­con’s Thames Dusk (plas­ is a back­drop to a clock from Mr Price Home (mr­ and a ch­ester­field leather arm­chair from My Auc­tion. To make a cof­fee ta­ble, Chris­lien short­ened the legs of an old Ore­gon pine ta­ble from The Shed in Som­er­set West (er­i­ The wall wreath from Kamers ( is made of dried pen­nygum leaves.


us­ing an old French crafts­man’s coat of arms she found on Google that hap­pened to have the ini­tials CB on it – the same as her and her hus­band’s ini­tials. She had the whole thing lasered like an en­grav­ing into a large square wooden panel and put Vic­to­rian mould­ing on the top. It gives the liv­ing area a distinc­tively French feel, along with the other time-gone-by Provençal decor pieces that pop up in all the rooms.

‘We’ve put our own sig­na­ture on this house,’ she says. ‘What I love about it is that while our friends and fam­ily all thought we were mad to buy such an eye­sore, it now breathes new life.’ Find the spe­cial­ists’ de­tails in the HL Black Book (page 94)

OP­PO­SITE The long wide stoep at the back of this Som­er­set West home is a favourite lunch spot for the Bath fam­ily, Chris­lien and Craig, and their daugh­ters Nina (left) and Robyn. THIS PAGE The pretty court­yard be­tween the house and stone-clad...

What was once the TV room has be­come a light and bright din­ing space, open plan with the kitchen and liv­ing area. The din­ing ta­ble is from Odds and Ends (021-851-8267) and the Louis arm­chairs are from Gis­ter (021-852-4827). The old cup­board is from...

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