Retired Knysna couple live their dream in 'wooden palace'

2016-07-15 19:46
 Philip and Florence Davids.
Philip and Florence Davids. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

Knysna - A retired couple from Hornlee in Knysna say money doesn't have to stand in the way of living in your dream home, no matter what your financial status. According to them, all you need is a little creativity.

Philip and Florence Davids turned their government subsidised, 5m x 6m "hop huisie" into a four-bedroom home complete with a deck looking out over their neighbourhood with nothing but a dream of comfort and a limited budget.

The couple, who lived as backyarders for years until they were selected as beneficiaries in a Hornlee West housing development 14 years ago, say they are proud of the "wooden palace" they have built over the past decade.

Florence, who was employed in the wood industry for years until she was unable to work after a back injury, said when she arrived at her new home in Agterstraat in early 2002 she was stunned at the size of her new brick home.

"It consisted of one tiny room with a bathroom attached. There was only one tap and one light. But I was grateful to finally have a solid roof over my head," she recalled.

But while she tried to figure out how to best arrange her modest furniture with the limited space she had, Philip was already quietly sketching the home of his dreams.

Putting the plan into action

"You don't have to just accept what is given to you. You can try to make it into something better," the 75-year-old retired carpenter said.

The couple, their three children and Florence's niece slept on triple bunk beds for years until Philip put his plan into action.

"We collected the Wendy house we lived in for years and attached it to the back end of the house to serve as a bedroom," the 60-year-old explained.

Her husband then erected a divider between the kitchen and the bathroom door, before adding on an additional structure neatly built to serve as an additional two bedrooms to give the children their space.

"I desperately wanted a lounge for the furniture Philip had made with his own hands," she said, pointing out two expertly crafted bat wing chairs and a hand carved dining table.

"We saved up our money and finally had enough to build the front section. The deck followed soon thereafter."

'I don't believe in handouts'

Philip, who regularly sands and varnishes the woodwork to ensure it stays in pristine condition, worked until he was 68 years old to help finance their dream home.

Today, the brick section of their once tiny house serves as her kitchen, where she spends hours cooking and baking cakes for the neighbourhood's children.

The sweet treats are handed to the little ones as a reward for collecting dirt strewn in their streets, Florence explained.

"I don't believe in handouts. We all have to do our bit before we receive something in return."

The neighbourhood children also help her in the rose garden she lovingly tends to almost every day.

"I am particularly proud of this," she said, staring at it lovingly from her deck.

Extra money

"Would you believe me that when we moved in here there was nothing but bush and mud? I used to walk to the nearby vlei to collect water for it. And look at my patch now."

Her deck gives her a perfect vantage point of the whole of Hornlee West, nicknamed "Panty Valley" by locals.

"Nobody knows where the name came from. I think it was probably because when we moved in here there were no boundary walls. Anyone could look into your yard and spot your washing lines with your week's bloomers blowing in the wind."

To earn extra money to help further their future plans for their eye-catching home, Philip drives nurses to and from work in his little Opel Kadett, which he parks in his wooden "garage" behind their house.

Florence, along with her husband, also tends to a garden they started on a vacant patch of land where they grow everything from onions to beetroot.

They sell the vegetables at dirt cheap prices.

Taking pride in their home

"We can't see our patch from our front door, and a lot of the produce gets stolen. As Philip says: 'Dis een vir ons, een vir die skelm, en een vir die rotte'. [It's one for us, one for the thief and one for the rats.]"

About a third of the Hornlee community still live in backyards and housing is an urgent need which requires government intervention, Florence said.

"It's hard living in a shack – ask me, I know. Some people will never be able to afford to buy their own four walls. If the politicians can promise this community a house of their own and deliver, they will have votes for life."

Those fortunate to have homes should take pride in where they live, whether it's a "hokkie or a brick house".

"You will probably be there for a long time so be proud of it. Being poor isn't a reason to live in squalor. There are amazing things one can do with the pieces of wood dumped on the side of the road and a lick of varnish. And a little patch of green can also make a world of a difference."

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