When Tamara and Josias Oberholster bought an old house in Kensington, Johannesburg, they knew it would require serious work. Built in 1923, the house had last been renovated in the 1970s. While it had beautiful pressed ceilings and wooden floors that could easily be restored, it needed a completely new kitchen.
“Before we bought the house, it was owned by an old man who was a watchmaker, and he was using two of the bedrooms as his workshop,” says Tamara Oberholster. “The dining room was being used as his bedroom, and the original kitchen had been turned into a small and rather awkward eating area. An extension to the back of the house was being used as a kitchen, but the cabinets and flooring were beyond saving. There was also only one bathroom in the house. We knew that we would need to re-look the flow of the house and change things around to make more sense for us, and for a modern home.”
The Oberholsters and their architect, Michael Hart, set about reconfiguring the home, while trying to retain any heritage elements. One bedroom was sacrificed and, by partitioning it, turned into two back-to-back en-suite bathrooms for the main and guest bedroom respectively.
The original dining room reclaimed its function, and three sets of double opening doors were added to provide access from the hallway, kitchen and lounge. The existing back-house kitchen was turned into a scullery area, and a new kitchen was built in the small room that had been used as a dining room. This room had an old fireplace in it, and the owners decided to keep it and add a new closed combustion system.
“In the kitchen and scullery, our first challenge was that the floor in the room where we wanted the kitchen to be was completely wrecked,” says Oberholster. “It was sprung wooden floor, but the boards had been cut in places and had old linoleum tiles glued on them, which had also damaged the wood. We needed to build a whole new floor, which entailed filling the old floor cavity first. It was a big procedure, but we ended up with a lovely tiled kitchen floor.”
The next challenge was breaking down walls and the old walk-in pantry to enlarge the kitchen space and let in more light. “We didn’t want to have to squeeze through poky corners to get into rooms – we wanted enough space to walk in easily, and to have the feel of an open-plan kitchen, while still being able to shut the doors to the dining room or scullery for the sake of noise, mess or heating one space,” Oberholster explains. “We cleared out all the original cabinets, and then once we had the ‘shell’ ready, we started looking for someone who could essentially build us a new kitchen and scullery from scratch.”
The homeowners contracted CEN Interiors. “Zalman Centner from CEN Interiors was great because he didn’t just agree to our rough idea of what we wanted – he took the time to think about whether it was the best use of the space, to make alternative suggestions and to measure everything out from the first time he walked into the room. This ensured doors would open comfortably and the kitchen flow would make sense,” says Oberholster. “It was not the easiest space to work with, but we are so happy with the results.”
Centner says the biggest design challenge was that it was a small space to fit in all the appliances, including a large fridge/freezer, stove, dishwasher and a giant Speed Queen washing machine, as well as a functional grocery cupboard. “We utilised every inch of space,” he says. “We put in a shallow grocery cupboard, which is very practical in terms of finding things easily and that gave us that extra space to fit everything else in.”
The cabinets were made from PG Bison MelaWood® Natural Touch, which has a luxurious, smooth matt finish, in the colour Congo. “I wanted something durable and low-maintenance in a warm, but neutral colour,” says Oberholster. “Congo is perfect because it’s sort of brown, sort of grey and so it goes with all the other colours we’re using in the house, from the wooden floors to the cement-look tiles. It gives a modern feel to the kitchen, but it also shouldn’t date too quickly.”
“We love the Natural Touch MelaWood® range. It has a nice soft feel to it, looks super classy and is high quality, durable and consistent in colour, yet still affordable,” adds Centner. “For the counters, we used quartz. We opted for Magnolia, by Arkstone, which is a slightly off-white colour.”
To complement the black Smeg electric / gas hob unit, black metal handles were selected, which also contributed to the modern look and feel. This was carried through in the black closed combustion fireplace unit and the black and brushed bronze light fittings.
“Because the house is so old, most of the door handles and hinges are still bronze, so we wanted to pick up on that,” says Oberholster. “We also managed to find gorgeous bronze stools for the breakfast bar we added in the kitchen. But the thing that people always comment on first is the blue subway tiles that we used as a splashback. It’s funny, because that was the only spontaneous decision we made with the kitchen, but it’s one of our favourites. It was something we decided on after the cupboards were installed. It just felt like it would finish the kitchen off properly.”
Small additions to make the kitchen more functional included a pull-out spice rack and vegetable drawers, deep drawers for pots and pans, a prep bowl under the corner window, and a plug point with USB above the breakfast bar for easy charging of devices.
“People think it’s weird that we have a fireplace in the kitchen, but we love it,” says Oberholster. “Not only does it keep the room cosy in winter, but we love cooking, so our setup means we can have friends sitting comfortably at the counter with some music playing while we prepare a meal. We all have a glass of wine and enjoy the fire, and then when the food’s ready, we can head straight into the dining room. I love how easy it is to entertain in this house now.”