A Heritage Homecoming


with Bryce Henderson

On the many walks through my neighbourhood with my dog, I was always drawn to a dilapidated house peering through overgrown shrubs and trees. Upon first discovering it, I was working with an agent in the area viewing homes that weren’t ticking many of my boxes… until she called me about this one. When I had the opportunity to view it off-market, I walked in, and despite the holes in the roof, rotten floor boards, and smell of damp, I knew this would be a magnificent project.

Heritage building turned home

Woodsprings House plays a significant role in the history and heritage of the greater Newlands area. It was believed to form part of the original red house estate, of which J.M. Hiddingh is on the title deed. The goal was to restore the original fabric while injecting new life and a modern flow of living. The reality of tackling a heritage building is often the neglect, as was found in Woodsprings, but that was only further motivation to tackle the project. Additional square metres needed to be added, but my approach was that the new extensions should not predictably blend in with that deemed part of the heritage structure. Instead, I wanted it to stand in contrast to the original fabric, highlighting the story of the building.


A sensitive approach

The main challenge, albeit the reason I was drawn to the property, was its heritage status. There were hurdles to clear before my design intentions made it across the line, but it was well worth it when the end result was a harmonious link between the restored heritage of the main house paired with the contemporary contrasting pavilion at the back. As the process had to be sensitively managed, there were several design iterations and changes after engagements with heritage stakeholders. But once finalised, construction ran in one phase over 14 months under close monitoring by a heritage practitioner.

Ode to materiality

It was essential to me that the materiality of the project in the core of the house remained true to its era. I tried as far as possible to restore and renew the original and existing materials to maintain this essence of the house’s past. However, the extension required something new, such as the honed granite floors with a timber off-shutter ceiling. Although a modern change, the choice of materials still pays homage to the original Oregon pine flooring.


Seeing the wood for the trees

When viewing the property, I saw through the large, unruly garden to the trees that had been fighting for sun between the shrubs, naturally forming sculptural trunks. I knew the design had to capitalise on the feeling of being in nature, despite the urban proximity. The original house lacked this flow to the outside, and so the idea for a glass ‘viewing box’ ignited. My favourite part of the house? The open plan living area. This space acts as a view finder to appreciate the details through glass courtyards while the newly located living area seamlessly blends into the garden.

Being my own client was daunting – when designing for clients you feel a sense of confidence that seems to lapse when you need to make personal design decisions. However, the freedom to design what you want and with whatever materials you like is truly exhilarating and liberating. And still, with it comes an immense responsibility to yourself and the project, requiring you to set boundaries for yourself and the project to ensure the process takes a house and turns it into a home. Once you can appreciate that, there’s no looking back.


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