479 Berea Street Refurbishment


A study in contextuality – the restoration of a 1913s home.

To design a space implies understanding need, form, and function and adding a specialist lens of aesthetic practicality. That is architecture with a solution-thinking hat on.

Restoring a historic building adds to this process. It adds an element of understanding the context in which it was built as well as the connection to the context of where it must function now.

Could a humble home built (as far as we could surmise) in the 1913s, be restored not to its former glory but also fit for purpose in an off-grid, eco-conscious, and fast-paced reality, while paying homage to the golden era of the nation’s capital?

That was the conundrum the team of specialists faced. To begin such a project starts with passion and a love for the structure and, a lot of experience and research.

1913 was architecturally and technologically speaking a big year for the brand-new Union of South Africa’s administrative Capital. It was the year the magnificent design of the Union Buildings, designed by Sir Herbert Baker was completed. The year before the municipal tram shed was built and a total of about 20km of tracks was bustling through the city. While horse and cart was still the primary mode of transportation, trams were a new and exciting innovation. Victorian architecture merged with a vernacular style that has become quintessential hallmarks – like the veranda and the red floored ‘stoep’ or porch.

Considered the golden years of this city, several historic buildings and monuments date from this time. The well-known farmhouse of the magnate Sammy Marks, just outside of Pretoria is just one of them. Stroll through the Victorian mansion and you get a feeling for the opulence and industriousness of this new Union of South Africa.

It is just fitting that this particular house has a magnificent view of the Union Buildings. It must have been a fantastic site in those days. And hopefully will be for many years to come.

With this history in mind, the owner of the house requested the house which had one owner and family for 60 years, be renovated with the charm of the golden era, but with the amenities and context of the current reality.

Great care was given to keeping structural authenticity. The floors are Baltic pine, sourced after many trips to many salvage yards.

The walls are built with red ‘Kirkness’ bricks, a very important business in the young capital (and related to the street with the same name in neighbourhood of Clydes Dale). We exposed two of these (one with the imprint “Kirkness” and one with the imprint “Pretoria” as a design element at the front door as one of the many small celebrations of the history and time this house was originally from.

The ceilings are moulded steel-covered layers of paint.

The porch or ‘stoep’ is painted with Plascon’s oldest product, red floor paint, and something you would be familiar with if your grandparents lived in a home from this era.

The journey of restoration is well documented through the pictures taken as the project progressed but doesn’t tell the whole story.

Many items sent the whole team off on a treasure hunt for the original material. The Baltic Pine for the floors is one of those items.

To restore the ceilings took a team of 4 craftsmen more than a month to delicately heat with a gas burner and scrape with their hands. One man had to be in the ceiling, with a fire extinguisher in case of a fire, while the others scraped off old paint from the bottom. Some of the steel ceilings on the porch had to be remade by a specialist as that specific pattern and size are impossible to source.

New elements add to the feeling of opulence and classic atmosphere: Brand new led-glass windows, beautifully designed and manufactured by Fanus Boshoff.
The impressive solid Red Oak kitchen counter and the beautifully crafted adjustable kitchen shelves, reminiscent of farm-house style with a brand new elegant look and practical functionality were designed by the architect and handcrafted by Noblemen Kitchens.

Additional features have been added in the same style – a gorgeously designed and uniquely styled outside guest restroom facility, a classical rose garden, and round window frames made from recycled wood from old doors sourced from the house.

The house is now ready for the twenty-first century, prepared for an era of hotter temperatures and all the infrastructural challenges of a new Africa, with extra recycled insulation in the ceiling, Plascon’s white Heat reflecting Nuroof paint, and complete off-the-grid functionality.

To successfully complete a project of this nature calls for several critical elements. Firstly a homeowner with the capacity to see the vision, understand the heritage, and have the passion for recreating a masterpiece. Then you need time, experience, and resources to hunt for the material to ensure an authentic restoration.

You also need specialists that understand the era and possess the craftmanship to ensure quality work. Bert Griffioen of AJ Renovatum (specialist renovator of historical Pretoria buildings), as well as Henk Jonders of Nobleman (wood craftsmen that built the kitchen table in shelves), are amongst some of the specialists that helped made this dream a reality.

When designing a brand new space is a culmination of immaculate planning space, budget, needs and tastes merge into a final product. The restoration of a classic one has the added responsibility of ensuring the legacy of the original structure as an echo of the past and its times are celebrated while ensuring relevance in the current context.

Frank Gehry Canadian-American architect is known for (amongst other landmarks) the Guggenheim Museum and the Walt Disney Concert Hall said: “Architecture should speak of its time and place, but yearn for timelessness.”

With 479 Berea street, it is a combination of all of these elements that makes it an homage to old-world quality and style. And, while it is not a massive concert hall with a futurist design, it is a gem that offers a glimpse into a world that was. Now it is restored to be a celebration of vintage charm while adding all the modern touches that make living in it a luxurious pleasure.

It was an honor and a great privilege to work on this project and could not have been done if the owner did not have the inclination and passion for restoration. May the people enjoying the views of the city have the same nostalgic memories and also see the bustling city full of innovation and industry.