When retro meets vintage...


Two different décor styles are blended to great effect in this beautiful home.

home June 2015

By Beatrice Moore-Nöthnagel • Photographs Justin Patrick and Henrique Wilding • Styling Marian van Wyk

What does a boytjie from the Free State do if you put him in a small house in the big city? He builds a braai of course – or three! Just ask Thabo Grobbelaar of Woodstock, Cape Town. Thabo (a nickname from his childhood; his real name is Jean-Coert) and his wife, Johanette, bought a 1940s house in 2003.

A year and a half ago, the Grobbelaars decided to build on a big living room and an indoor braai area sheltered from the cold Cape winter. As with previous projects, Thabo, an art director in the film industry, did the work himself with the help of a bakkie builder – and now the house is a spacious 200m².

The new open-plan lounge with its striking fireplace, bookshelves and Stucco Italiano finish has transformed the small house into a spacious, contemporary home. The other interior walls are painted with Titian Expressions from Dulux.

 A concrete floor was laid in the new lounge and double French doors were installed to link the space to the courtyard and outdoor braai. New custom-made stacking doors from Montana Folding Doors & Joinery in Pretoria open out to the new adjacent braai room. At a later stage, they want to extend the braai room by building a stoep leading out to the garden. Now, after almost 12 years in the house, Thabo has no less than three braais – one for every season, or as the mood takes him.

A whole new look

When they bought the house it was a bit on the small side but it had a number of things going for it, such as the fact that it’s on a corner stand and isn’t semi detached like so many others in the neighbourhood. So there was lots of potential for adding on and also space on the 470m² property for a patch of lawn and a vegetable garden.

Johanette, an accountant, says they were able to buy the three-bedroom house for a song because at that time the area was still a bit “rough”; today, property in Upper Woodstock is highly sought after. “The first thing that caught my eye was the stoep because it reminded me of my childhood,” she says. It still has its original terrazzo floor tiles.

Like many people who renovate old houses, the Grobbelaars demolished a few interior walls to create an open-plan space and to let in more light. But they first had to get permission from the National Heritage Council because the house was 60 years old. “We never thought we’d live in a heritage home!” laughs Johanette.

“There was only one bathroom and it was dark. Luckily, the original wooden floors were in excellent condition; we haven’t needed to do anything to them at all.” The sunken dining room floor was raised to the same level as the kitchen and hallway, and screeded with Stucco Italiano in the colour Smoke to create an earthy look; it now matches the wooden hallway floor.

The original tiles inside the fireplace had been painted black when the Grobbelaars moved in but, luckily, Thabo was able to remove the paint with a blowtorch. The canvas print above the fireplace is by photographer Adriaan Louw.

Old and new with a retro touch

Most of the furniture in the house consists of oak heirlooms or Oregon pine from the couple’s childhood days – some pieces still look the same, while others received a coat of paint or new handles.

“My style is a blend of old and new, while Thabo loves the retro look,” says Johanette. ‘New’ furniture is usually bought second-hand and is often in a retro style to balance Johanette’s vintage items. And for a modern touch, they sometimes buy a side table or décor items at stores such as Weylandts.

“We do everything to do with the house together. We shop around for bargains and never buy anything without first discussing it with each other. It’s a hobby we both enjoy. My daughter Mia has already left home, so we have lots of time to browse,” says Johanette. Which is why on a Saturday morning you’ll most likely find them at the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock or browsing second-hand stores and markets, something for which this neighbourhood has reached near cult status. Among their other favourite stores are LIM and Klooftique in Kloof Street in the Cape Town CBD.

“We love earthy colours, but we like to use red as an accent – in small doses,” adds Johanette. “We’ll still be here in 40 years’ time. Although its value has increased significantly over the years, I don’t think we’ll be moving out of this house anytime soon.”


Johanette and Thabo’s décor tips

• Maintain a balance between different styles; for example, two retro chairs with a modern sofa and an heirloom coffee table work well in a living room.

• Don’t buy all your furniture and décor at the same time – check out various places until you find the perfect item.

• Combine wood with a lick of paint – a retro dresser will look very trendy with the backing board painted a nice colour.

• Make sure there’s sufficient natural light at all times – our braai room has a transparent roof that lets light into the living room.

• Don’t build your braai too small. You can always make a smaller fire if there’s just two of you, but there must be space for plenty of coals if you have lots of guests.

Johanette and Thabo in their new indoor braai room with its gas cooker.

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