Memories of the Vastrap renovation


I can’t believe it’s a year since we finished the big transformation of our house at Vastrap. That means it’s only a month off the first anniversary of this blog! People with experience know what a nightmare it is to live and work on a building site 24/7, which we did for 8 months between October 2011 and May 2012. What started as a relatively minor alteration of the kitchen and TV room ended up being something much bigger encompassing most of the rooms in the house except our study and Ashley’s room. It was dusty and noisy and relentless and in retrospect took up a huge amount of time and head space. The beautiful silence (and free time) left behind by the departing builders allowed me to think again and ultimately led me to start this blog.

It might seem strange that I’m only documenting our building process now, but I think I needed some time to get perspective. At a distance I’m able to look back on it with nostalgia rather than dread! It has also taken a year for things to settle and find their place. We love the final product and have thoroughly enjoyed entertaining and hosting people in our ‘new’ home over the past year.

What made building a bit more difficult was the fact that we used 13 inch sandstone blocks in the alterations to match the existing house. Large sandstone blocks are typical of the old buildings in our area, but these days people tend to build with smaller blocks almost the size of bricks. We decided to stay true to the original since there were still 13 inch blocks strewn around the mountain behind our house left over from when my father-in-law employed a full-time stone mason in the 1960s. The blocks were carved out of big chunks of sandstone fallen from the cliffs above. He must have been a very productive guy because he carved all the blocks for the renovations that Bill and Karine did in the 1960s (including the building of a squash court) with more than enough left over for us!

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June 003Building with these heavy blocks is laborious work. The builders used a pulley system to stack the blocks on top of each other. Plastering the stone is another story entirely, because the blocks don’t fit perfectly on top of each other and the surface is very uneven. The thick plaster virtually guarantees a slightly wonky wall, which becomes very apparent when you start installing straight kitchen cupboards or try to get tiles to match up! Fortunately, we were happy to sacrifice perfection for authenticity so we’ve made peace with these little imperfections.

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All that heavy lifting gave us a slightly larger kitchen and a new main bathroom added onto the side of the house. Many of the internal walls were broken down and changed, but the brick work seemed easy compared to the stone! We replaced all the steel windows with double glazed wooden windows to improve our insulation. Internally, we also had to source some old reclaimed wooden doors and frames to match the original doors in the old section of the house. Below is the final product as seen from the outside, including the changes to the garden (see Before and After: The courtyard transformation). Over time the stone will change colour and develop a patina to match the original stone so that one can’t see where we patched and matched. Now the house can be left in peace until the next generation decides to leave its mark on Vastrap!

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13 thoughts on “Memories of the Vastrap renovation

  1. I am thrilled you only did the post now, otherwise I would have missed sharing in it. You have a beautiful home and I am sure your in-laws are touched you and your husband did your renovations as with the original development.
    I LOVE your courtyard and am quite jealous.
    Have a beautiful evening and hope it’s not too cold. Here in the Eastern Cape, it’s already quite chilly.
    🙂 Mandy xo


    • Thank you Mandy! My in-laws have been amazing considering how much we changed!
      We’re having beautiful warm days here at the moment, but the big chill is just round the corner! Keep warm. xx


  2. I love what you’ve done and I’m glad you had the spare stone to keep Vastrap so cottagey and inviting. Reading your post brought back memories of my renovations 2 years ago which were madness at the time. I was holding down a full day job and living in the house with 70% of my possessions in storage. I gutted the bathrooms and kitchen completely and knocked down walls to make the living area open plan. For 6 months I basically lived in a dusty concrete shell and it took a year until I was finally done. At one stage I was washing dishes in the main bathroom!! Some weekends the builders didn’t pitch either. Nightmare stuff but I love the end result too. xxx


    • That sounds awful and familiar! We had to set up kitchen in the bar, which was a bit cramped but worked fairly well. Then there was the mad rush to get the kitchen finished in time for our Christmas guests. We almost didn’t have any windows but they arrived at the last possible minute and our builders were kind enough to do a temporary installation two days before Christmas so that it wouldn’t rain on my new kitchen cupboards during the holidays. The stress almost finished me!!


  3. I love the continuity of a house passing from one generation to another, each adding their own layer of history, though it can be a bit fraught when a daughter-in-law starts ripping the house apart! My mother-in-law was very understanding but my mother says that in the 30 years she lived in their farmhouse, there was a little part of her that felt it wasn’t quite hers (not a problem my sister had when she took over though).


    • Yes, it can be tricky! My mother-in-law is amazing and has supported us whole heatedly. She was very chuffed because she got her old kitchen cupboards back which were still good as new but didn’t fit with the look we wanted. Win win all round!


  4. such wonderful alterations. How I love that you can vision the old with the new… lucky you had many spare rocks that were hewn. I can see this as an Old Homestead with new life and history in keeping with the “Old”…. congratulations… restoring and building in keeping are not for the “feint-hearted”… 😉 *Brigid


    • Thank you so much Brigid! Yes, it was quite a daunting task, but I think we did alright under the circumstances. The most important thing is that the house lives beautifully for a modern life style whilst still keeping its old charm.


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