Roots Running Deep

Preserving the Cape Heritage Hotel

Forming part of the beloved Bree Street Heritage Square, the Cape Heritage Hotel is a historic feature of the Cape Town CBD and its hospitality industry. The building dates back to the 18th century and has lived many lives, even surviving the threat of demolition in the 1980s. To honour and maintain its historical and cultural heritage, ProNature joined in the adventure of restoring and renovating this significant piece of architectural history, turning it into a contemporary and chic boutique hotel.

The love affair we at ProNature have with heritage buildings began over a decade ago, refurbishing Original Oregon Pine Floors at the Homecoming Centre in District Six. Since then, we have been engaged in a multitude of heritage projects like The Old Granary restoration, student residence at the University of Cape Town, and the Vice Chancellor’s house at North-West University, but one project is especially close to our hearts – The Cape Heritage Square and Cape Heritage Hotel.

Heritage Hotel 1

The building’s historic roots run almost three centuries deep and form an integral part of the restored Heritage Square in the heart of Cape Town. The Square is a collection of some of the earliest Dutch and Georgian houses in Cape Town, built in 1771. The Hotel itself was constructed in the 1780s and, like most of the original buildings, was used for commercial reasons. Tobacconists, snuff makers, gunsmiths, bakers, coach makers, and wheelwrights prospered here, and there was even a rope warehouse, several retail stores, a boarding house, a chapel, and an undertaker.

Heritage Hotel 2

Often the requirements of heritage projects are that materials used for renovation and restoration should be similar or identical to the materials used when the buildings were first erected, such as the same types of timber, and the use of clay and lime instead of cement. An example at the Cape Heritage Hotel was to replicate a gap filler that resembled the composition of the original filler for Yellowwood floorboards. We achieved this by formulating a product based on milk protein that matched composition and colour. To arrive at the original colour of all floors, staircases, and doors, customised colours of the ProNature Indoor Wood Sealer were applied. This natural, oil-based penetrating sealant stains new fragments to the same colour, protects the original wood, and negates the need of sanding prior to the maintenance processes.

staircase with pronature products

Most of the walls in the Cape Heritage Complex were built from locally mined rocks, of which some old quarries along Table Mountain still bear witness today. The mortar used in the construction of these walls was a clay-lime-sand mix with natural plant fibres or animal hair sometimes incorporated. During restoration these walls are often exposed, and the old plaster is removed to display the beauty of the rocks or mixture of rocks and clay bricks, and to show the building methods of the years before. Unfortunately, these ‘open’ walls are very prone to losing small pieces of the old, very brittle mortar which can be unsightly and create an abrasive mess on floors and furniture. To avoid the mortar breaking loose, these walls need to be protected with a special transparent coating. This type of coating must preserve the original colour of the rock substrate, without drying to a glossy film, and conform to VOC regulations while preferably comprising of natural ingredients. Most importantly it needs to prevent mortar and dust breaking loose. ProNature Wall Protect fulfilled all these requirements, bonding loose particles and drying to a perfectly matt finish without changing the colour of the original materials.

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