In 2018, before the world went sideways, we were fortunate to be commissioned to help rejuvenate a historic property know as De Mond in the sea-side town of Hermanus.
The property consisted of a double garage with a cottage above, a guest cottage and two linked historic thatched barns. The existing buildings were to provide for the homeowner's modern lifestyle, while maintaining the charm and historic Cape Dutch character of the original.
Working closely with our client, we took special care in selecting the appropriate materials and craftsmen to repair the years of wear and tear and neglect to the property. We structured the project so the work was phased in such a way as to enable the homeowners to continue to enjoy the property for as long as possible while the renovations were ongoing.
Dating back to the early 19th century this pair of barns, known as "De Mond", were possibly one of the first building built in the now much sought-after picturesque suburb of Voëlklip of Hermanus in the Western Cape Walker Bay area.
The barns became a holiday home, around 1790, by Hendrik Cloete, who had farming concerns such as Groot Constantia and other farms in the Cape. The barns are located close to the ‘lagoon’ (Klein River Estuary) and they have seen Hermanus grow to become one of South Africa's much sought after holiday towns.
In 1913 the house was bought by Michael du Toit of Caledon and many years later, SJ du Toit recorded an interview with one of his grandchildren, Miempie Cronje:
The old house was one building, but in two sections, like barns. There were shutters on all the windows and the walls were three feet thick. The windowsills were so wide we could sleep in them. The house was very cool in summer and warm in winter.
On the stoep were two rooms and inside a big bedroom, dining/sitting room and kitchen. On the eastern end was another room with a fireplace… In the other section the Henns had a small house, with a kitchen and its huge bakoond, a small sitting room and one other room. The house resembled four flats.
At the back were stables and the outside toilet. The whole place was enclosed by a ring-wall and there were steps leading down to the river. Between the two sections, also under the roof, was a long open space where the wagon or cart was pushed.
In the 1950s the house was bought by the Hamilton-Russell family as their holiday home. They added modern amenities of the time such as a double car garage with a guest flat on top, known to the family as Sea Gull Cottage. They also built a compact, free standing cottage in the garden, comprising of a kitchenette, an open plan bedroom, and an en-suite bathroom.
The Hamilton-Russell family had made significant alterations to the barns in 1988, providing more accommodation and linking the two buildings, making them their sea-side home. They also built a second storey to the garden cottage which complemented the historic barns and in 1991 the legendary wine maverick Tim Hamilton-Russell retired to the home.
The previous planning of the house had the kitchen disconnected from the rest of the house, divided by the staircase to the first storey. The upstairs link between the two wings of the house was narrow, with roof beams jutting in to the room, and had various level changes that made the space uncomfortable.
With careful consultation with the client's heritage specialist, the staircase was moved to be accessed off the entrance hall passage, and a new connection was established from the kitchen into the dining room. A new guest bathroom was redesigned with planning for future conversion into a full bathroom. The roof structure to the first storey link was opened and reconfigured to make a more generous space, with larger windows added looking towards the town of Hermanus and the Klein River Lagoon. The first storey bedrooms were enlarged and, where possible, more natural light was introduced. The en-suite bathrooms were redesigned to provide for a more contemporary life style.
Special attention was given throughout to the choice of materials, with reclaimed oak floors planks being used in the main house, along with customised antiqued brass light fittings and electrical switches. The bathrooms were tiled with locally sourced handmade tiles, and the bathroom taps were all of a period style.
A thorough audit of the existing doors and windows was done and any rotten or damaged windows or doors were carefully repaired or replaced with teak timber. New internal doors were made in the traditional plank and rail style, and hung with replicated cast iron hinges.
The guest cottage and garage flat where redecorated with new timber oak floors and cabinetwork. The bathrooms were redesigned to provide for a more luxurious feel.
All of the buildings were re-thatched used modern methods and insulation, which gave the spaces more headroom and gave the roof better thermal properties and a higher fire retardant rating.
The project was delayed by the pandemic but the homeowner took occupation in December 2020
Over the years the barns have evolved from functional structures to the current welcoming home and,along with these significant changes to the character of the barns, the surrounding landscape has grown from natural fynbos to rural farmland and a suburban neighbourhood.
We believe that we have paid tribute to the character of the buildings and been faithful to the style, while providing for a comfortable modern lifestyle.
The past is not dead, it is living in us, and will be alive in the future which we are now helping to make.
William Morris (24 March 1834 – 3 October 1896)