When potter Sarah Walters found a neglected corner cottage in Newlands Village in Cape Town she set about turning it into her ideal work-from-home/studio/shop space, doing a lot of the renovations herself and upcycling materials she’d gathered over the years.
Ceramicist Sarah Walters is familiar with working and living in the same space. Until recently she was sharing a studio with her father, renowned Franschhoek ceramicist David Walters, and she lived in a house that she built on his expansive Franschhoek property.
‘It was lovely working with him and living on site but it was time to move on,’ says Sarah. ‘I wanted my own place and my parents are looking to scale down. It took me a while to find the right house but this ticks all the boxes. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted but it’s getting there.’
Sarah has handcrafted the alterations to her small cottage and every piece, from doors to floors has a story.
‘A friend gave me the new front door and he said he hopes it brings me lots of customers because it used to be the front door of his father’s very successful shop in Joburg.’
The good-luck door has replaced a large window on the corner property and looks as if it’s always been there. ‘
‘I didn’t want people coming into the existing front door because it leads straight into the lounge. So I have two entrances – the shop and the home. It helps to define the space. When friends come round they’re coming to my home, not my shop.’
The new door leads into an L-shaped space where Sarah knocked down a wall and replaced the floor with tongue-and-groove boards that she bought off Gumtree.
‘I learnt how to install the tongue-and-groove myself. It’s not that easy but at least it was just one room!’
The showroom space displays Sarah’s fine porcelain and her studio is next door, with a view of Table Mountain. ‘This is where I want to sit all day,’ she explains, working at my wheel.’
The hands-on artist switches from working with her clay, wiping her hands on a rough cloth, to walk me through the property.
Formerly occupied by a Chinese medicine practitioner, the corner property is a historic building with some unusual architectural features.
‘There was a spiral staircase leading up to the second floor,’ explains Sarah. The spiral staircase is gone, replaced by a modern, clean-lined laminated wooden staircase.
Currently free of any railings or handrails the staircase is poised between the lower level and the loft space. ‘I suppose I should put up a railing but it looks so beautiful without them,’ Sarah says wistfully.
‘A friend called Mario Dieckow (in Kommetjie, Werkstadt), who is originally from east Germany, made it out of laminated pine. He made the whole thing in his workshop, then brought the pieces here. We had to push the long sides into the house through the kitchen window. Then he slotted in the steps and lifted it into place. He is a genius…you should see the kitchen he is currently working on. Wonderful clean lines.’
Sarah’s house story continues in the studio where she points out a slate mantel ‘given to me by a friend’. He’d had it for years and when he offered it to me it was a perfect fit. The dark slate offsets Sarah’s delicate pastel-infused porcelain creations.
My favourite part of Sarah’s house is the kitchen with its rustic feel and the handmade green subway tiles Sarah made on site.
‘Most of what I did was with reclaimed stuff, the only things I bought new were the kitchen and bathroom taps and the kitchen sink…and the staircase of course.
Here's what Sarah did room by room
Kitchen: new bamboo floor, it was rough concrete, new kitchen unit, new sash window, all from gumtree! I removed a spiral staircase and closed in the ceiling, removed old fireplace, painted black ceilings white and yellow walls white! Put in a doorway
Hallway...removed the entire ceiling, cutting metal I beams, remove old non functioning chimney, putting in a skylight in the hole! Removed arches and blocked in a doorway. Replaces rotten floorboards.
Living room…took up old rotten floor boards and some floor truces and replaced with Japanese maple tongue and groove, from gumtree…new door out into courtyard, also gumtree. Had all the sash Windows restored, some had plants growing out of them! Put up a dry wall. Made my own porcelain lampshades.
Downstairs bathroom, removed bath and basin and made into kiln room, with extractor fan.
Downstairs studio was a very yellow room…had to replaster one of the walls.
First gallery room, opened a double hole in the wall, replaced the floor with same wood as living room, and removed almost a skip full of Chinese medicine.
Replaced the corner window with the gallery front door…which was given to me by a friend. It belonged to his father who owned an antique shop, so he said it would be lucky! Found the stained glass above the door at a friends who was a bit of a hoarder, and he gave it to me! Put in the steps up into the gallery, and found the oak leaf security gate on gumtree…the house is called Oak Cottage!
The slate mantel piece in the second gallery came from the same guy, swapped it for some lawn…and I have had it for over six years…just pure luck that it fitted!
Upstairs bathroom had an Eastern loo which I removed, halved the room to make the stairway, and put in the loo and the shower.