Reinventing a Victorian Villa

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Arklow Villa III

Size: 160 m² 

Completed: 2019 

Location: Green Point, Cape Town 

Wedged between the slopes of Signal Hill and the sparkling Atlantic Ocean in the suburb of Green Point, Arklow Villa III is a 120-year-old Victorian, semi-detached home that has undergone extensive alternations and additions to become a functional micro-living cottage in Cape Town. The talent behind the transformation, Douglas & Company, is a Cape Town-based architecture and furniture and interior design studio that regularly seizes the challenge to breathe new life into older and existing structures. With their hands-on experience and understanding of the design sensibility and local authority approval procedures required for renovation projects in the Western Cape, the studio is no stranger to blowing away the cobwebs to give historical homes a much-deserved glow-up. Let’s see how they went about reinventing this Victorian villa… 

Building backstory  

The existing single-storey house historically formed part of a series of three identical cottages called Arklow I-III. Following more than a century of neglect and lack of adequate maintenance, the property suffered from several careless additions and shabby patch-ups, heightening its need for a professional restoration.  

Recounting the renovation 

From the front, the semi-detached house appears almost unchanged, except for the addition of two new dormer windows punctuating the roof plane. With the preservation of the heritage street frontage of the original house and the traditional veranda, the tasteful reconstruction and remodeling of the roof and rear elevation gave the house a new lease of life while simultaneously paying homage to the home’s history. The existing stoep was replaced, closely resembling the old one, but executed in a contemporary language to expose the textured stone foundation walls behind.  

In contrast to the conservative approach to the front façade, the rear of the house presents a completely new building. The double-fronted character of the existing structure made it possible to divide the house into two zones, with private spaces on the one side and public/shared facilities on the other, and both zones benefitting from north and south light. On the ground floor, the main spatial organisation remained in keeping with the original layout, with the addition of a small bathroom and staircase leading to a new first storey. A new courtyard was opened up at the rear to allow light and ventilation into previously unlit and unserved spaces. Tall doors and glazing to the south also helped to add plenty of light to the previously dark abode. 

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On the new first floor, a main bedroom and bathroom round off the ‘private zone’, whilst a study overlooking the living area below and opening up onto a terrace with views towards Signal Hill extends the ‘public zone’. The new double volume space is unusually generous in relation to the scale of the cottage and exposes the existing roof trusses to the living room below. Redundant roof trusses removed from the existing roof space were used in interior detailing. 

Sustainable city-living 

The new work is predominantly executed in standard South African pine timber. By using pine for the floors, doors, windows, and ceilings, the design worked in harmony with the existing timber trusses, tying the space together and making it appear bigger than it is. Existing features and finishes were preserved where possible and used in combination with a new restrained palette of brick, natural stone, and timber, exuding warmth and tactility.  Rainwater is harvested from the roof and reused to operate the washing machine, dishwasher, and flush WCs, significantly reducing the residence’s reliance on the municipal water supply.  

Interior identity 

The double-bent, black steel staircase with its cylindrical spiral handrail at the top marks the centre of the room, drawing the eye upwards. The interior features pieces from Douglas & Company’s furniture range, including the E.1027 Credenza and McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon drinks trolley. The former is a nod to Irish architect and furniture designer Eileen Gray’s seminal modernist holiday home on the French Riviera. Inspired by her Maison Minimum approach, the Credenza’s profile and rounded ends resemble the villa’s curved entrance wall. Plus, the same vertical handle detailing was incorporated into the custom kitchen design to create continuity throughout the residence. The drinks trolley (or McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon) has been placed in the dining area in front of a frameless glass window where soft light provides an ideal habitat for the much-loved houseplants, resulting in the trolley being filled with greenery rather than a favourite tipple. 

Architecture awards 

Arklow Villa III received a CIFA Award for Architecture, a Corobrik/SAIA Awards of Excellence and Merit Commendation, and AFRISAM/SAIA Sustainability Design Award in the Sustainable Architecture category.  

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Architects: Douglas & Company 

Lead architects: Jan Douglas and Liani Douglas 

Interiors: Douglas & Company 

Building Contractors: DGM Construction 

Engineers: Gadomski Consulting Engineers 

Photographer: David Southwood    

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