Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Restoring a house in Harrismith

Restoring a house in Harrismith
On a drive through Harrismith, we fell in love with a ruin standing on a large piece of land.
You have to love old buildings and believe in the quote of Arthur Erickson 
“Great buildings that move the spirit have always been rare. In every case they are unique, poetic and products of the heart."
Yes we bought the old lady, with a beautiful view toward Platberg, in October 2000 and moved to our new home 3 months later. You can read more about this here

The biggest question was where do we start.
During the time before moving we visited Trevor Evans, a wonderful architect specializing in old South African buildings.
We left with building plans and lots of information.
Now to give a little detail – we bought a dream to renovate while we do some soul finding.
Our house was built with sun-baked clay, compressed into brick forms and stone.
The foundations are packed sandstone blocks
There is no cement between the layers of mud bricks
The wood work were layered with up to 7 layers of paint, but that is what protected it though the years
Mr Venter, one of the previous owner's, son-in-law standing at the front door.
Hennie using a hot flame to remove paint from the front door 
The ceilings are high and rest on yellowwood beams 
What we learned was that these special house needs to breathe and flex like living things. 
The dry environment, the heat, the cold, extreme as it is, has shaped it, made it strong and preserved it.
When we look back, the cleaning process was the biggest challenge. 
After we had cleaned for 2 months we could start the renovation process. 
We followed the route of don’t over-restore. Keep it simple. 
Our biggest expense was time. 
Frances Mayes words reminded us of where we are: “Where you are is who you are. The further inside you moves, the more your identity is intertwined with it. Never casual, the choice of place is the choice of something you crave.” 
Whitewash was part of the process and we tried and tested many recipes and being an old house we did not want the perfect finish. We opt for Yellows and burnt Sienna for color. 
We did not remove any old mouldings and had some copied to match the originals. 
We had only used, salvaged building materials. 
We learned the hard way that polyfilla is a no-no for a mud built house. This two does not gel. We decided to renovate one room at a time. Life offers you a thousand changes … all you have to do is take one. 
Walls protect the dreamers and unthinkably good things can happen. 
Till next time 
Sandra