Archives for category: Renovating

“So long was the en-suite considered a little bit racy that bathrooms entered through the bedroom only became common in British homes in the 1980s. Terence Conran was a little ahead of the game as usual when he wrote in 1974 that ‘along with central heating and a good fitted kitchen, there is nothing like a bedroom/bathroom suite to bump up the value of your property.'” (Lucy Worsley. If Walls Could Talk – An Intimate History of the Home)

Original Downstairs Family Bathroom
During Renovation
Completed – This is now en suite to the third bedroom.

We chose to use the same tiles and fittings for all three ensuite bathrooms and the guest loo (or powder room)to give a sense of continuity.

Below are two pictures of the original main bathroom en-suite.

The house had been designed for a bachelor and this bathroom had quite a masculine feel with a single basin (sink) set into a wooden vanity.  Every drop of water splashed onto the vanity made unsightly white marks if they were not mopped up immediately.  The marks disappeared after a couple of hours but the top seemed to be completely impractical for a bathroom.

The renovation process above.  This is the stage when you wonder why you ever got started.

The completed bathroom. It was worth the effort.

Bernard, our architect insisted on having a small recess running along the base of both bathtubs.  It’s not something I’d  noticed elsewhere before but I like the way it looks and also the ‘toe wiggle room’ it provides.

The new en suite shower room presented more of a challenge.  It was built from scratch in the space behind the wall in the above picture.  It was difficult to photograph largely because of reflections.

Breaking through the wall.

What was originally the study is now the third bedroom.  The sliding doors above were once the hinged doors between the TV room and the living room downstairs.  We had them converted to sliders because they take up no space in a compact bathroom. The glass panes are not sandblasted.  A company called Window Art applied designs ordered and made to measure.  We have used them on several glass doors in both our homes.  It’s a much simpler, cleaner option than sandblasting and it’s impossible to tell the difference once they’re completed.  Window Art have proved to be an absolute pleasure to work with in both Johannesburg and Cape Town.(

New en suite shower room

We carried the same look through to the guest toilet (powder room) downstairs but since it’s not a ‘heavy-duty’ room, the flooring is oak rather than tile.

I have always enjoyed having art or items in my home that have been created by friends and acquaintances.  The shell photographs in the guest toilet were taken by none other than my dentist’s wife on a beach in Namibia.  I first saw them in Dr Gray’s surgery and immediately ordered copies.  I like to think that the Roman blind fabric reflects some of the shapes and colours.  Once again, it was quite a difficult room to photograph:

Original Guest Toilet just before stripping. Mirror already removed.
New fittings installed

I’ve always loved the texture and form of seashells and seeing these photographs above my dentist’s chair was a welcome distraction.

New bathroom tucked in on the right.

Over the course of these renovations, I’ve learnt a few things about bathrooms.  From Lucy Worsley’s ‘If Walls Could Talk’, I’ve discovered that the word ‘toilet’ is derived from the French word for a linen cloth, a ‘toile.’  Over time this evolved into ‘toilette’ which described a ‘basin wash,’ and this eventually contracted into the modern word ‘toilet’ which we use today.

None of what I’ve read has made me feel anything but grateful to have been born in 20th Century.  And if there is one thing for which we can thank North America it’s en-suite bathrooms which were first seen there.


It had to happen.  On one of my site visits to Cape Town I looked at the wall separating the small tv room from the lovely, light living room  and thought ‘that needs to come down.’

This wall needs to come down.


Other side of the wall. TV room.


Showing uncharacteristic restraint, I bounced the idea off Bernard before introducing it to the family and as I expected, he jumped right on board.  With his professional opinion on my side, It didn’t take too much effort to persuade everyone else that this was a good idea, because with just a little imagination it was easy to see that removing the dividing wall would open up a beautiful, light space.

It did of course add all sorts of additional complications, not least of all being the necessity of bringing in a structural engineer and accepting that the existing (laminate) flooring would have to be replaced.  It also meant that most of the kitchen would need redoing but that will be another story.

View from kitchen. Steel beam in place.


View from Living Room


From this…

…to this. This small pillar will be thicker when complete.


View from Living Room.

It can feel a little overwhelming at times and there is no doubt that I am thought by some to be just a bit crazy, but last week I felt absolutely vindicated.  I asked a decorating friend to meet me at the house to discuss curtaining.  It was her first-ever visit to the house and it was a relief to show her how things were and how they will be and to get an enthusiastic response from someone who just ‘gets it.’ In an earlier post I mentioned how the single window in the middle of the main bedroom wall had irritated me for years.

Main Bedroom with additional window.

I pointed out the additional window to Susie who expressed amazement that there had ever been only one.  “It must have looked like the Eye of the Cyclops” she said. I rest my case.





From a distance, it’s difficult to keep track of progress, just as it’s difficult to speed things up.  Our Cape Town builder sent us a couple of photographs this past week which do show some activity.  The pool looks almost ready for filling.  It will be a relief to get that ungainly water-bag (in the right hand top corner of the third picture) off the patio.

It’s good to get an idea of how much more accessible the pool will seem, raised to almost the height of the patio.

At last, building has started on the small, new bathroom.  As this is the only part of the renovation which will be visible from the outside and which will alter the ‘outline’ of the house, I’ve been anxious to see it take shape.


It is above this tiled roof that the new ensuite shower room is being built.

Below are two pictures showing brickwork finally going up.  Because concrete slabs were needed for both the floor and roof of this bathroom, we needed planning approval.



The picture above shows the new bathroom window looking south towards the street.

I hope the next batch of photographs will show some internal bathroom progress.  My next ‘site visit’ is scheduled for April.  Perhaps I’ll be able to speed things up a bit.

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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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


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


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.


Cupboards removed, beautiful new floors laid.


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.



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…


Bathroom as it was.




And after…


Bathroom now.



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


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


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.


Old oven and light fitting.


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.


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.


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


Also loved these……..


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.



Gorgeous Jewel Colours

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





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.


Hello Hampstead! These crepes are worth the queue.