In our latest Outdoor Issue, LIN SAMPSON bemoans the state of Renovia – the craze to renovate every tiny space until it is unrecognisable. Here she gives her 11 rules for renovations.
There are a few concepts bought from third-rate American decor magazines that ruin houses forever. They no longer have coinage in smart parts of Europe but in South Africa they are a stain on the decor landscape:
- Too much light
The biggest enemy of South African houses. Small windows are replaced with picture windows so the view mugs you. Check the famous English architect Edwin Lutyens on windows that are deceptive, hidden, small and unexpected, mullioned, oriel, portholes… some have as many as 154 small panes and look delicious.
- Open plan
Very big in Renovia. Everyone who has looked at houses knows the cheap conversion, a stripped-down room, with a granite countered kitchen stuck in the corner like a naughty child. Highways of gleaming floorboards that make each footfall sound as if you’ve invited a horse to dinner. No one wants to see you scrape the stew off the floor. Doors are sacred and most of the brilliant European designers are bringing them back. There is nothing more wonderful than shutting a door on the world.
The only place where a tile is permissible is the bathroom. Once I had lunch with someone in Johannesburg whose house looked like a combination between a police station and a leisure centre. She called for coffee and for fifteen minutes we listened to a trolley being rappelled over the tiles. Tiles are for a bathroom and they should be white and square.
No, it is not the answer to all your problems.
They are not for humans but for doves and rats. There is no loft room in the history of renovation that has been anything but a disaster. Think summer.
Bruce Chatwin once said, ‘It is one of those terrible houses with a view.’ I loathe views. I can see them when I am outside, why would I want them in my house. They are intrusive, rob conversations and finally you just want to chuck yourself into them. The most beautiful architecture in the world is 14th century Islamic. When I visited Hassan Fathy, an Egyptian architect who built out of mud, his old house wound up steeply behind the souk in Cairo, orange trees on each small landing, finally to his one room. It was in sight of the pyramids but no effort had been made to ‘bring them in’. Turn your back on the view. Houses should be dark, internal and enchanting like all the most beautiful houses in the world.
- En-suite bathrooms
Things really start to go downhill with the bathroom en suite, cramped, unhygienic, horrid. You could offer most South Africans Vita Sackville-West’s beautiful house Sissinghurst at a cut-price and they would whine, ‘Are there bathrooms en suite?’ In my view it is the bathroom en suite that has ruined all renovations. Beautiful old bedrooms are slaughtered so half can be turned into ablution blocks and cupboards. Personally I have always thought that all loos should be outside. What has happened to the human race that they cannot walk a couple of steps to relieve themselves? At the very least a toilet should be in a separate room.
The worst renovation conceit is the celebration of the doorway. When I first stayed in Parkhurst, I thought I was living among palaces. There were miles of white pilaster filigree and huge eagles teetering on walls, enormous gateways with grand porte cochère, domes and ogee arches. Behind lay small tin miners’ houses, entirely correct and endearing.
- Exposed bricks
There is definitely a brick fetish going on. Don’t know what to do? Brick in the garden. Brick the driveway and when you run out of bricks get in the pseudo stone merchants. A house in Rondebosch, a bit of a dog but with an old fruit tree and a pretty garden, is now a cross between Stonehenge and Windsor Castle, covered with stick-on stone, possibly the most revolting of all renovation tricks – other than the mezzanine floor stuck in a roof to add a room.
Kitchens with aspirational gadgetry and bathrooms sell a house, says an avaricious Tamboerskloof agent who controls buying and selling on this expensive bit of turf. However, a very grand woman in London where I stayed recently said, ‘Oh I don’t have a kitchen, I just cook on a hot plate under the stairs. A kitchen is such a waste of a room, don’t you think?’ And what about that central island loved by all kitchen designers on which you bump your hip every time you pass.
- The swimming pool
Never ever have a swimming pool. They take more looking after than a llama and are not half as attractive. Swimmers hate them, children drown in them and they get slimy. And don’t get me on to gardens. It was intended that the architecture and the gardens should work together towards the harmonious development of the spirit. The instant garden is about as evocative as a scratch-and-sniff card.