Not content with having come through one big building project not entirely unscathed, we have embarked on another.  This is being handled at arm’s length though and so far, seems to be going reasonably well.  Although I might feel differently when I eventually get down to Cape Town to see it firsthand.

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This picture shows the French doors leading from the dark downstairs bedroom opening onto the covered patio on the right. It also shows the drop from the patio to the garden and pool level.

We have owned a townhouse – or ‘cluster’ – as they’re sometimes referred to here, in the southern suburbs of Cape Town for about 13 years.  When our children were at university there it was a very useful base for us and we’ve used it for many holidays and breaks from Johannesburg as time has passed.

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This downstairs floor plan gives some idea of the shape of the stand and pool.

It is a freestanding house in a gated group or cluster of 5 other similar homes and as such has been an easy ‘lock-up-and-go’ option.  It has a small, compact garden and a pool to match.  There had been only one previous owner before us and it was in good condition.  But as often happens when you buy a house, there are little things you know you would have done differently had you designed it yourself and just like some people have almost permanently itchy travel feet, I have permanently itchy ‘alteration’ fever.

It can be quite an intrusive condition.  I hardly ever walk into a house without immediately thinking about how it would look were a door or window in another place, if the house were turned back to front to give privacy to the garden and pool area, if it was plastered differently, if the roof was angled better, if it could benefit from skylights and if dividing walls could be demolished to make one, light spacious open plan room…. I never stop.  Sometimes I don’t even have to go into a house before I start envisaging how it could look if tweaked a bit here and there.

So it is no surprise that over the years we’ve owned the Cape Town property, I have pondered and wondered about it.

From the day we moved in the shape of the swimming pool has irritated me.  The garden is a slightly unfortunate wedge shape and someone in their wisdom thought it a good idea to have the swimming pool follow the curve of the garden wall.  Now, about 17 years old, the pool needs extensive resurfacing and it seemed like a good idea to change it altogether.

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View from the small covered patio over the garden.  Not possible to see the curved side of the pool on the right but possible to see that the patio needs resurfacing.

One of the downstairs bedrooms had no direct access to light, only having French doors and windows opening onto a covered patio area. This has driven me crazy and I can’t even begin to describe the various ideas and harebrained schemes I’ve come up with to get around it. In the top photograph you can see the French doors on the right, opening onto the small, covered patio.

It’s a three bedroomed, 2 bathroomed house with an additional guest toilet and basin (powder room in Americanese) and a study.  The study and main bedroom en suite are upstairs and the study has the best outlook in the house, facing north towards Table Mountain.

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View from the upstairs study (soon to be bedroom) towards the southern aspect of Table Mountain.

It’s all very well having a study right next door to the bedroom when we’re home alone, but when someone in the family gets on the phone to clients or worse, brings them to meetings at the house, it is not an ideal situation at all.

So, as happens, the renovation of the swimming pool became a renovation of the patio and garden which became a little bit more and a little bit more again.

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Passage/Hall wall on the right to be broken through with double glass doors.

In a nutshell, the dark downstairs bedroom is being turned into the study.  The door leading into that bedroom has been bricked in and the wall the bedroom shared with the passage (hall) has been knocked through to accommodate double, glass paned sliding doors.  This way, that room will receive ‘borrowed’ light from the kitchen and hallway.

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The original bedroom door has been bricked up and the double opening knocked through.

By moving the doorway of that bedroom, we’ve been able to convert the ‘family’ bathroom into an en suite for the second downstairs bedroom.

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The open door on the right has been bricked in as seen in the previous photo. The bedroom door beyond has been brought forward so as to create an ensuite bathroom which is not visible on the left.

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Doorway brought forward

The upstairs study is going to become a bedroom and a small, en suite shower room is being built behind it, above the kitchen.  In this way, it does not extend beyond the existing ‘footprint’ of the house.

And since we were putting in a new bathroom and needing to slightly improve another one, we decided to do all three.  The bathroom fittings were delivered before the builder was on site and without any warning from the supplier.  Fortunately a neighbour was able to give the delivery men access to our garage but as it turns out, we’re a bathtub short and nobody wants to talk about it.

Another issue I’ve had with the house and with the whole development is that there are no bathroom or toilet facilities for outside workers or labourers.  When the house is locked up and not in use, there is no access to a bathroom for the gardener who takes care of both our small garden and the common driveway area. For this reason, we’re adding a toilet and basin area in the little utility area behind the kitchen with outside access.

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Small washroom taking shape in the little drying yard behind the kitchen. 

So a small project has become quite a major one and the house is uninhabitable at the moment.  Our lovely architect, Bernard Krige, has done all our plans and has been down to Cape Town a few times to check on progress.  Down here in the Southern Hemisphere, all builders close for a month over Xmas and New Year so there is only a week to go before all work stops.  They will start up again on the 15th of January and no doubt we’ll have to travel up and down a bit in the new year.  I am sure our neighbours will welcome the peace and quiet for a month but despite the houses being very close together, we have not had a murmur of complaint from anyone as yet which couldn’t be more different from what we had to deal with in Parkhurst.

An absolute priority with this project is to make the small garden ‘water-wise’.  Cape Town is in the grip of one of the worst droughts in history and there are draconian water restrictions in place. Since we’ve had such success with the water tanks we installed at Treetops, we’ve decided to install two smaller tanks in the garden in Cape Town.  These will not be connected to a pump and filter system to service the house, but will hopefully provide water for the garden and for topping up the pool when necessary.

The pictures below, taken about 6 weeks ago, show the existing pool with the curved right side, the retaining walls to contain the future raised garden on the left and on the right, a water-tank-plinth-in-waiting.  Unsurprisingly, there is a waiting list for water tanks in the Cape at the moment. The plan is that when the time comes to empty the existing pool, we will drain the water into the tanks for storage until the new pool is ready.

 

Sometimes I forget that our main motive when building Treetops was to downsize.  With both our children living in London and two of us rattling round in a rambling home, it was time to ‘contract’ somehow.  It wasn’t all about size.  Over time, there’d been a growing awareness of excess, for want of a better word.  For taking up more space than we needed to; using more electricity and water than we needed to; in general, just having more all round than we needed.

We’ve been fortunate to have had no regrets.  Sometimes I drive through my old neighborhood, just a couple of kilometers from where we are now, and I’m alarmed to see   the changes there.  And that is in itself ironic because in moving to Parkhurst, we were seeking a more urban lifestyle; a neighborhood  where we could walk to parks and nearby stores, cafes and restaurants and that is an aspect of living here that we thoroughly enjoy.

Silk ‘n Swag, above right, specializes in Annie Sloan paint effects and can transform anything.

But the urbanization I’m seeing in my old neighborhood is different.  Huge office and apartment blocks are pressing up against the beautiful old garden boundaries of the lovely old homes there.  Passing my old road last week, I was saddened to see that at least 4 gracious houses in old, established gardens have been completely demolished to make way for what seems to be a huge new development.

Downsizing did come with some challenges.  Some things were difficult to part with but I must admit to missing nothing other than one or two old books I’ve looked for without success.  They must have gone the way of charity shops but if I really, really need them again, there’s always the library or if necessary, new copies.

I derived much satisfaction out of being able to re-use some of the fabrics and other items from my old home in new inventive ways.  My sister got a table cloth made from damask curtaining and a friend’s housekeeper has done wonders with our old dining room curtains too. She proudly showed me covers she had made for her sofa in her township home.  One of my silk bedroom curtains looks beautiful re-invented as upholstery on a little bedroom chair.

From a gardening perspective, I derive more enjoyment out of this much smaller garden than I did from the almost acre of ground I had before.  It was a lovely, old established garden but very difficult to maintain and a whole day’s work in it made little impact.

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges of this property has been its width.  This stand is 55 meters long and only 15 meters wide.  This has meant that there are narrow pathways down either side of the house and an even narrower ‘service area’ down one side of the guest suite which is above the garage.  And this is where I have found mirrors to be absolutely invaluable.

The picture on the left above shows the site from south to north, and the one on the right from north to south. They give some idea of the width of the property and looking at them now is enough to give me nightmares.

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The little picture above shows the narrow alleyway on the east side between the house and the boundary wall.  This was particularly challenging to deal with.

While the rooms in this house are bright and light, they are also more compact than what we were used to and careful use of mirrors has helped to reflect and bounce light around, giving some areas a sense of being more spacious than they actually are.

 

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Main Bedroom View Looking North

Having the lovely view above from the main bedroom, I disliked ‘losing’ it if I were facing the other way.  Bringing in the mirrors below has solved that problem, meaning that I catch glimpses of the park from almost anywhere in the room.

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Below is the view I was presented with when standing at the scullery sink. This window faces out onto that narrow path on the east side  Granted, having the walls painted grey is an improvement on the dark alleyway appearance in the  earlier photograph, but this wasn’t at all inspiring.  Like most things, I knew exactly what I wanted to do here, but it took some time to get around to it.

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Below is the outlook with which I am now presented from the same position.  The ‘window-like’ mirror is mounted directly opposite the scullery window and reflects a shelf mounted below the outside window sill and two wall-hung pot plant holders on either side of the window.  This is possibly the most satisfying result I have had using mirror reflections so far.

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Then, when going up or down the stairs, I felt the alcove leading into the guest toilet needing brightening.  The mirror there not only reflects light, but also offers another view of the Behero baskets under the stairs.

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Below is a mosaic of the main en-suite bathroom showing before and after mirrors.  The third photo is taken into the mirror on the toilet wall.  It is high enough not to reflect the toilet itself when one is actually seated on it, but positioned where it is, it is able to ‘give back’ the view of the shrubbery outside.

We spend a lot of time on the veranda, regardless of the weather and I soon found that sitting on the ‘west’ side of the table gave one a very limited outlook.  It was time for another mirror.  This one throws back aspects of the veranda behind.

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Then, another table and another dead space. This time to the south….

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I really didn’t like that small blank square above the little display table…  It didn’t seem a good place for a painting but a visit to Block & Chisel – one of my favourite interior stores – solved the problem:

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Now, when sitting at the dining room table, I can see bits of both sides of the garden, north and south.  It is much more satisfying and I love the ‘porthole’ effect of that round mirror.

But sometimes there are ‘errors of judgement’ which brings me to the guest suite above the garage; the space I hope to one day list on Airbnb.

There are two small windows behind the galley kitchen.  With hindsight, I would probably have bricked them in, but I suppose, if anyone was to cook in that kitchen on a warm night, it might be good to have the option of opening them.

Only, the outlook was dire – straight on to a roughly-plastered grey wall about an arm’s length from the windows themselves.  Undaunted, I decided to try mirrors.  I found two round ones which I thought would encompass the space and with considerable difficulty and husband-help, I got them hung…  It was not a success.

Below is what you saw before the mirrors…

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…and this is pretty much what you saw after them…

IMG_7932I remember reading an article many years ago suggesting that mirrors should only be used where they reflect something attractive or interesting.  This experiment proved that point.  I changed tack.

Today the mirrors came down and pot plants went up in pretty wrought-iron holders from Garden Bleu.  This is far more satisfactory but left me with two circular, mosaic-surrounded mirrors with nowhere to go.  They are not my usual style but tucked away up there, they could have worked.  I moved my attention to the garden…

The first time I tried a garden mirror was in our small Cape Town garden.  It is a compact garden, enclosed by high walls and just by way of experiment, I mounted a long mirror on the shady back wall.  It worked in that it did offer an oblong of light in a dark area and gave the illusion of a gateway leading to another space.  Some visitors to the house were taken in until they got quite close to it.

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The mirror is the narrow band of light behind the birdbath.

So it didn’t take long to decide to try one of the round mirrors on a garden wall here.  The garden is looking a little wintry still, but once the leaves on the various shrubs have come out and the plants in the container below have gained height, I think it will be fun to have ‘window’ glimpses through the foliage.

Once again, I like the ‘porthole window’ effect.  We’ll wait to see how it blends in over the next few months.

On reflection, downsizing and small gardens can be fun. Read the rest of this entry »

Over the past several years a new obsession has quietly crept up on me.  I find it difficult to walk past a basket without stopping to examine it and, more often than not, buying it and bringing it home. Something to do with the shape, texture and ‘organic’ nature of baskets hold an irresistible attraction for me and despite my determination to keep this house as uncluttered as possible, my collection of ‘woven-ware’ is growing steadily.

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A window display in Cape Town.

Loving baskets as I do, Africa is a good place to live.  Baskets abound.  There are weavers on street corners, piles of baskets at markets and some beautiful examples in many of our loveliest decor stores.  But discovering Amatuli in Kramerville is like walking into Basket Heaven.

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There are baskets of every size, shape and colour imaginable.  They come from all over the African continent and I am particularly drawn to the Bohero Baskets.  These are made from plant fibres by the Bohero people who live on the borders or Zimbabwe and Zambia to our north. They are used for carrying and storing food.  No two are alike and there is something very appealing about their form. So far, I have succumbed to three large ones which are under the stairs and a couple of smaller ones which are now on bookshelves.

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Small Behero baskets and woven Zulu hats in the library

Basically, there are baskets all over the house:

 

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Three shallow (originally brown) African baskets, now painted in duck egg, hang above the headboard.

Art Africa in Parkview is another source of beautiful basket-ware, along with a huge variety of other African craft work.  The brightly coloured baskets on the wall come from there.  They are made with telephone wire, rather than grasses or reeds.

 

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Art Africa.  Mind-boggling choices.

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Art Africa.  Just love these black and white wire baskets.

An abundance of basket-ware…

In most South African towns it is not unusual to find street vendors selling basket-ware on pavements, street corners, traffic intersections and, of course, markets.  I have only to go a couple of blocks to find Khosi who comes from Swaziland.  She makes beautiful baskets and floor runners and can be found most days of the month on a corner of 4th Avenue in Parkhurst.

The woven grass runner in the kitchen area of the guest suite was made by Khosi.

And finally, it seems my passion for baskets extends to all members of the household…

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Wow.  It’s been absolutely ages since I updated this blog.  Home-in-the-Making is ‘made’ but, as any homeowner knows, homes are never ‘finished.’  There’s still quite a lot going on here and a few things still have to happen.

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I asked my local street corner ‘Beader’ to make little yellow chickens.  I think I got ducklings instead.

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So this is a quick update.  As usual in Johannesburg at this time of year, there is a distinctly autumnal feel in the air.  As recently as last week though, we were still having thunderstorms and heavy rain and the drought in this part of the country has been well and truly broken.  After just one storm on Friday, I measured 20ml of rain.

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It’s fairly late in the year for this sort of rainfall and our water storage tanks are brimful.  This is reassuring for the dry winter months ahead.  Should we have any inexplicable water cuts, we’ll be covered.

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Our house seems to have settled into its surroundings now.

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Autumn is creeping into our park.

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Guest Suite Over the Garage

My next project is to finish decorating and furnishing the guest suite over the garage.  These rooms have a separate entrance and would only be used to accommodate visiting friends if the main house were full.  Despite the mixed reactions I have had from friends on the subject, I’m thinking of trying this out on Airbnb when it’s complete.

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Galley Kitchen in Open Plan Living Area.

This is how the guest suite looks today.  You can see two perspectives of the living room and three of the bedroom, one showing the sliding door into the bathroom.

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Barn slider in guest suite.

Quite a lot needs to happen in this space before I can consider renting it out.  Let’s see how it will turn out. And in the meantime, Daisy wishes you all a Very Happy Easter.

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I know D’Arcy and I share some readers but I hope some of ‘my’ followers will enjoy this post about Seattle’s Floating Home community as much as I did.

Our Bungalow's 2nd Century

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know that Eric and I enjoy home design tours. We’ve done bungalow tours, modern home tours, and two years ago, a floating homes tour. Ever since then, I’ve eagerly looked forward to the next time we could come aboard Seattle’s iconic floating homes. I thought that because I’d already blogged about this tour, I’d skip writing about it this time … but it was such a lovely day and such an eclectic collection of homes, I can’t help myself.

The tour was sponsored by the Seattle Floating Homes Association. This year, we were asked not to take photos inside any of the homes, which I can understand. Still, I managed to sneak a couple, and I’ve borrowed a few from The Seattle Times. This post will be more of a look at the floating home community and lifestyle rather…

View original post 1,226 more words

Spring has a way of approaching Johannesburg tentatively.  Much like many first-time visitors to this city.  It is usually a case of two steps forward and then a big step back which is why I only took the cover off my little camellHia bush two days ago, although the temperatures haven’t been much below 25 during the day for the past two weeks.

The first official day of spring in the southern hemisphere being today, it feels like a good time to introduce you to something special in my garden:  See if you can spot the difference between the two photos below:  This one…

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I’ve always had a thing for swings.  Old school friends tell me that when I was a little girl I was a hopeless party guest if there was a swing anywhere in sight.  I would plant myself on it and refuse to participate in any party games.  Not much has changed.  If I see a swing that’s fit for grown-ups, I’m on it.

So I was absolutely delighted to receive a very heavy Xmas present from my sister in England last December and to find inside it, a very special swing.  It came complete with ropes and has a solid oak, inscribed seat.

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Needless to say, it was quite a substantial addition to my luggage on the flight home but it was well worth the extra bag required.

There was much debate about where to position it in such a small garden and in the end I decided it should line up with the bay window.  It works this way from both inside and out:

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I swing on it almost every day and when my sister came to visit in March, she swung on it too…

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I plan to grow a climber over the frame but am still trying to decide what will do best.  It is a very sunny, hot position for most of the day.

Friends and family who know about this particular penchant of mine, have taken to sending me photos of beautiful swings in other parts of the world.  My daughter took the photo below at a villa in Tuscany where she did a cooking course at Tuscookany in June.

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Now I’d like to go there too…

Other variations of  swings that have found their way into this house are this basket one which lives on the upstairs veranda.  With its lovely views over the park, it is my favourite afternoon tea spot….

And this painting by Abe Opperman who features swings in much of his work…

 

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And finally, being Spring Day, it seems like an appropriate time to look back on what the garden looked like a year ago on the 28th of August, 2015.

 

And today, it looks like this:

A year ago the driveway looked like this:

And today it looks like this:

So it does seem as though some progress has been made.

The animals all seem happy too…

I’ve developed a passion for secret gardens; hidden-away gardens and courtyards.  Having downsized from a property of just under 4000 square metres to one of just over 800, I have a newfound respect for gardeners who can turn a small area into an enticing, exciting, verdant space.  It’s reasonably easy to make a big gardens with huge trees and broad flower beds filled with shrubs, perennials and annuals look impressive.  It takes talent and imagination to make a small garden interesting.

My sister in law has just that talent.  She and my brother live in a townhouse in Cape Town.  Their complex is on the lower slopes of Table Mountain, below the cable station and very close to the city.  Looking at the building from the outside, you’d never guess  that one of the units has a magical garden hidden behind it.

As you walk in the front door of their home, your eye is immediately drawn to the lush, green oasis beyond the French door leading out of their living room.  Their garden is approximately 7 by 10 metres big and all you want to do is go outside:

 

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An old bathtub makes a perfect herb garden.

You’ve got to love the luxuriant tresses of the guy below:

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Pam made the pottery planter herself.

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That’s a cast iron cat silhouette on the wall above.

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An old Xhosa corn grinding stone finds new purpose as a birdbath.

Garden shed in Bridal gear

A Tiny Garden Shed hides beneath Star Jasmine.

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Baby Robins in Ivy on the Garden Wall.  

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Magnificent Clivia

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A Cape Robin Finds Cheese on the Feeder.

 

Each time I visit Cape Town, I look forward to visiting this enchanting garden.   It’s hard to believe that so much magic has been conjured out of approximately 7X10 metres.

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When it comes to gardens, my sister-in-law has made something very clear:  Paradise can come in quite a small package.

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(Some of the photographs in this post were taken by my sister-in-law, Pam Parkin.)

 

The London Underground is not exactly a space where you’d expect to find inspiration but it is where I rediscovered the magic of poetry two years ago.  I’m not sure whether this post belongs on Home-in-the-Making or elsewhere, but since it ends up in my garden, I’ve decided to include it here.

Subways and crowded carriages are not my favourite places and until overcoming a lifelong struggle with claustrophobia a few years ago, I almost never used them. Consequently, to suddenly catch sight of a breathtaking line of poetry printed inside a carriage rattling far below London was an unexpectedly lovely experience, to say the least. In that instance, I was reminded of “how extraordinary it is that poetry can, over the course of one sentence, flood your circuit board with loss, or anger, or love” (The Independent) and to that quote I would like to add ‘joy’.

“The swallow are italic again”.  The brilliant imagery of that line held me spellbound.  On closer inspection I realised that this was not random graffiti, but a whole poem, printed on the inside of the carriage along with several others.  In fact, the inside of that particular carriage seemed quite festooned with poetry.

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I made a mental note of the poet, Owen Sheers, googled him the minute I got home and then set out for the nearest bookshop.  So far, I’ve not been able to find an anthology of Owen Sheers’ poems, but I did find a book titled “Poems on the Underground” edited by Gerard Benson, Judith Chernaik and Cicely Herbert and I bought it immediately.

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As you can see, it is already quite well worn.

To quote from the foreword of the book, “Poems on the Underground started life in January 1986 as an experiment by three friends, lovers of poetry, who persuaded London Underground to post a few poems in its trains.” I for one now look for poetry every time I board the tube and am disappointed when I don’t find it.  I wish all the carriages could become travelling poetry books.

“Swallows”, I’d decided, needed to find a place in my new home and then on reading “Poems on the Underground” from cover to cover, I came across another poem I couldn’t live without either.

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Returning to South Africa, I set about looking for someone who would be able to transcribe these two poems onto stone for me and, thanks to Google once more, I found just the perfect person in a small, southern coast village of Still Bay (or Stilbaai as it is more commonly referred to by South Africans.)

Si’mon Huber  (http://www.stone2stone.co.za) turned out to be exactly who I was looking for and in a matter of weeks, with only email correspondence between us, he had carved the first verse of ‘Swallows’ and the whole of ‘Tin Roof’ onto beautiful sandstone blocks and had them couriered to me in Johannesburg.  What a find!  It is not often that one orders something sight unseen and when the finished product arrives it actually exceeds one’s  expectations. While I’d have loved to have all three verses of ‘Swallows’ in the garden, I felt I needed to exercise some self-restraint so have limited myself to just the first verse.  It was, after all, that first line that had so captured my imagination.

The poems are now comfortably settled; one outside the front door and one in the front garden.

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With one of the criteria given to our architect being that our house have an ‘iron roof’, this poem, ‘Tin Roof’, has special resonance.

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Close up.

Once “Swallows” was in place, I felt it might benefit from some ‘illustration’.

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While developing this garden, I have rather fallen in love with a shop in our neighbouring suburb of Greenside.  Tucked down a little panhandle and quite difficult to find, is Garden Bleu. (http://www.gardenbleu.co.za)  It is a treasure trove of garden ornamentation and is becoming a regular haunt.

When I realised that most of their products are locally manufactured, I asked Sascha – who manages the Greenside branch – if she thought they could make a few swallows for me to mount on the wall.  She asked me to find a few diagrams on the internet to use as ‘patterns’ which I did and a few weeks ago I collected seven beautiful swallow silhouettes for the wall.

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I had asked for them to be made with short ‘posts’ which could be bolted into the wall so that the swallows would stand proud of the wall itself.  This means that at different times of the day, they cast beautiful shadows of themselves against the wall.  Bernard, our architect, taught me about shadow lines.  Had I not gleaned that from him I would have probably asked for shapes that could be stuck straight onto the wall and I don’t think they would have been as effective

Sascha told me that she’d had a few extra swallows made alongside mine and that they’d already been sold.  It’s very refreshing to have found such an enthusiastic young business where anything seems possible. And, as with the sandstone carvings, the finished swallows were lovelier than I’d imagined.  Before our big ‘downsizing’ exercise last year, I never knew that having a small garden could be so much fun.

 

I had planned to write a garden update this morning but will postpone that until today’s dust has settled.  This post is coming to you live from my sofa and I am writing it with the sound of a burglar alarm ringing in my ears – and no doubt in the ears of most of my neighbours.

Parkhurst properties tend to be narrow with not much space between homes.  This means that trees planted on the boundary lines often encroach into neighbouring properties.  In this country, we are allowed to trim branches that overhang our fences and interfere with our roofs or gardens.

So on Friday morning I sent text messages to both my left and right neighbours, letting them know that we were expecting tree fellers here today to cut back branches on our boundary.

This is what I said:

“Hi there.  Just want to let you both know that we’re expecting tree people on Monday, hopefully in the morning.  They will be cutting back branches that are over our walls/touching our roof.  I’d very  much appreciate it if you’d switch off your electric fences while they’re working. Thanks. Jacqui”

I had a perfectly polite and co-operative response from my neighbour on the right while neighbour on the left took a different approach.  While I’m sorely tempted to include her message here, I’m not in the habit of peppering either my speech or writing with four letter words, and I won’t start now.  Needless to say, I did not take the trouble to reply and the tree men arrived, as arranged, about half an hour ago.

It would seem that we’re never going to be forgiven for building this house and changing this…

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View from the street

to this….

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I shared the message with Julian of Treeworks so he knew what to expect.  The electric fence had of course not been turned off so the alarm goes off each time the smallest branch lands on it and I suspect her armed response company must be calling her every five minutes.  This also means that the tree fellers are unable to pick up any debris that might have fallen into her garden and they have had to access all the trees from my side.  Ironically the trees are all either privets or syringa trees and if I’m not mistaken, both are regarded as ‘alien invaders’ in this country.

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Can you spot the man high up in the Syringa tree? He has carefully avoided the live electric fencing.

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Fellow workers looking on.  The white post to the right is part of the electric fence.  The man on the wall is standing on the wall we had to build a foot into our property, having been prevented by our neighbour from building on the common boundary.

This type of attitude is a mystery to me. There is no concern whatsoever shown for the men who are working around and above the live wires of the electric fence.  I have had several calls on my phone from an ‘unknown’ number (which I’ve ignored) and my husband has had one message left by our neighbour’s attorney requesting that he call back to discuss ‘damages’.  It goes beyond belief.  Fortunately Julian remains unruffled and his attitude transfers itself to his workers who appear faintly amused by the all the goings on.  If you live anywhere around here and especially if you have tricky neighbours, I can highly recommend him.

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I have maintained a fairly low profile but Julian tells me he has been on the receiving end of a verbal lashing from my neighbour who came back from her office especially to deliver it. He is unfazed.

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Our right hand side neighbour has obligingly switched off her electric fence.  Here they are trimming the poplars.

And now, to add insult to injury, a massive storm has broken over Johannesburg and we have had to hastily recall all the men in trees…  This is the first rain we’ve had in many weeks and probably the last we’ll have for many months.  The weather men have been taken by surprise as we’d been told not to expect any more rain until the summer so this is some – welcome – late relief.  Just a pity for us it has chosen today to fall and it’s bucketing down.  The men have taken shelter and it seems likely that this little drama will have a second instalment.  In the meantime we wait for a lawyer’s letter from our neighbour who insists that her electric fence was damaged earlier this morning. Julian doesn’t believe it and frankly, neither do I.  And if she’d switched it off for just one hour, as requested, all would have been well.

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A late and welcome – if inconvenient – storm breaking over Johannesburg.

 

 

 

 

In September last year my daughter had an offer accepted on a  small flat in Hampstead, London.  Securing a property, no matter how small, in London, is no mean feat and although her offer was accepted in September, it was early January before the solicitors ‘exchanged’ and late January before the deal was ‘completed.’  The hiatus between having an offer accepted and completion can be a nail-biting time as any number of things can go wrong, not the least being a change of heart of either party.

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So receiving the news that the deal was sealed, so to speak, was a cause for celebration.  South Africans have to make huge mental adjustments when buying property in London and it is impossible to draw direct comparisons between the space money can buy on the tip of Africa and what it can get for you in this humming, heaving metropolis.

It seems that my interest in space and decor has been passed on to my children. Juliet looked at lots of flats last year and each one was more depressing that the one before.  Her search was not confined to Hampstead.  She looked high and low finding each flat more depressing than the one before.

So it wasn’t without some fundamental requirements that she subsequently came to see a Mansion Block flat close to Hampstead High Street.  It just so happened that not only was I visiting at the time, but my sister from Sussex had also come up to London for the day so we were able to bring our combined experience to bear on the three flats we saw in Hampstead that day.  One subterranean lair still gives me the jitters just thinking about it.

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View of Hampstead High Street

The owner of this particular flat was at home when we visited and the flat was dingy and cluttered.  But it was oblong; shoebox-shaped with no funny angles or staircases to nowhere. (And yes, we’d seen a few of those.) Best of all, it had beautiful, tall, sash windows and although ground floor, faced onto banks of hydrangeas.

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At some stage, someone had fitted built-in cupboards down the longer side of the bedroom, meaning that a queen-sized bed could only fit with its headboard against the windows.  This gave the room a ‘stretched’, elongated look.   Then it turned out that the cupboards were so shallow it was impossible to hang coat hangers any way but one behind the other and adult-sized shoes had to lie longways…  Juliet’s first thought was to get those cupboards moved.  And her second was to get the entire flat painted from top to bottom and the floors redone.

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The bed, off centre, against the windows. One wall covered in dark, textured wall paper.

The keys were finally handed over and Martin, the  Polish builder, started work on February 1st.

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Keys at last

Martin calls himself a ‘Handyman’ but has proved himself to be so much more than that.  We think he has an engineering background and we know that he remains stoically undaunted no matter what household building obstacle is put in front of him.  In fact, I’ve seriously considered flying him out to Johannesburg to finish of our snag list here, once and for all.

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Built in wardrobes along ‘wrong’ side of bedroom. Note the smaller, mirrored door next to the window.

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Martin moved the mirrored cupboard door and installed it on the entrance hall cupboard.

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Here it is all spruced up and with a new Mother of Pearl handle from Portobello Road.

This time, he brought along two Polish helpers and the three of them together, in just two weeks, wrought miracles.  They expected to finish on the 17th of February and were apologetic about running overtime to the 18th, when they had to work side by side with two cleaners, miracle-workers in their own right.  By the end of last Thursday afternoon, when the builders handed back their set of keys and the cleaners left, the flat looked brand new and as though there had never been any previous residents.

The two biggest changes, other than installing new bedroom cupboards, were to repaint the entire flat and to refloor it.  The bedroom was carpeted, the small entrance hall and living room had very old, dark wooden floors that could not withstand further sanding and the kitchen floor, also wooden and equally aged, was a hazardous step up from the living room.

IMG_3182 Juliet found several floor samples she liked and after poring over  photos and one visit with her to the supplier, she settled on one she liked which is quite similar to what we have had installed in Johannesburg.

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Cupboards removed, beautiful new floors laid.

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New mirrored cupboards from Ikea.

The flat doesn’t get much direct sunlight although the windows ensure that it is not dark.  Mirrors are also very effective in ‘bouncing’ light around.

 

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The bedroom on the first night.

The bathroom, other than needing a shower screen, new cabinets and a very good scrub, was salvageable.  While the entrance, living room and bedroom have all been painted in Farrow and Ball Wimborne White, the bathroom and kitchen have been redone in plain white.

When you’ve looked at enough flats in London, a bathroom with an actual window is a big win…

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Bathroom as it was.

 

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Before…

And after…

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Bathroom now.

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Below is the kitchen on the day we saw the flat:

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The kitchen as it was.  Note door on the right – entry from the living room.

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Long drawer installed under the countertop and a shelf below.

With the exception of the oven which was not salvageable,  the kitchen is remaining essentially the same for now.  The door from the living room into the kitchen has been removed to create more space in what was a very inaccessible area behind it.

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Old oven and light fitting.

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New oven and induction hob installed.

The kitchen came with a washing/drying machine on the left and on the right of the oven, behind the panelled door, is a 6 place-setting dishwasher.

The workmen and the cleaners finished off at about 4pm on Thursday the 18th and the movers were booked to bring the furniture out of storage on Friday the 19th.  In Africa I’m not used to working to such a tight schedule.  I tend to always have a few days grace in-between times to allow for the inevitable delays and no-shows.  So it was not without a degree of trepidation that we awaited the arrival of the moving men on Friday 19th but they arrived absolutely on cue.

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Van in the slip road outside the Mansion Block  There was much discussion as to where to park it so as to cause the least inconvenience, but eventually the driver manoeuvred it right outside the front door closest to the flat.

A very busy day followed.  We unpacked as much as we could as fast as we could, so as to send away as many empty cartons as possible when the truck left. By the end of the day the flat looked very habitable.

The following day we set off in search of bedside lights and ended up in Heals on Tottenham Court Road.  I love having a good excuse to visit decor shops in other countries and Heals was a very rewarding place to spend a morning.

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I just loved these balloon ceiling lights and wished I had an excuse to buy them.

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Also loved these……..

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And these ‘balancing’ table lamps…..

Heals offered all sorts of distractions:

I loved the vividly-coloured fabrics and cushion covers they sell which so beautifully off-set the neutral base items that continue to be popular.

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Gorgeous Jewel Colours

And this is how the flat looked by the time I left two weeks later:

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Seeing this sort of transformation in two weeks was hugely satisfying. In the end it  came down to new floors and new light fittings, a fresh coat of paint throughout, an incredibly good clean and, most importantly, great workmanship from three Polish guys who take enormous pride in their work and for whom nothing seemed to be too much trouble.  They even came back the day after finishing, just to hang pictures.

And now I’m looking forward to having the time to get to know Hampstead much better.  It’s a beautiful part of London.

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Hello Hampstead! These crepes are worth the queue.