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  • Gaby Millner

Well-laid plans

A well-thought-out floor plan is a beautiful thing, and is not as common as one would like to think. It can mean the difference between daily frustration and comfortable efficiency. All other things being equal, it can also greatly increase the value of your home through buyer-appeal. In this post, we show you how we used planning to drastically improve the feel and functionality of this semi-detached house in Rondebosch, Cape Town.


This small cottage was sorely in need of a makeover. The owners had already decided that they would be gutting it in terms of finishes. The kitchen and bathrooms needed redoing, the ceilings needed replacing; as did all the built-in cupboards and carpets. The timber window frames were old and in ill-repair. However, the "bones" of the house where fine. It had a good clay tile roof and strong outer frame with good foundations. (The original structure dates back to the 1920's).


Subsequently, when they approached us, they asked us to make some suggestions on how they could improve the overall use of space. In addition to this, they wanted to add on an area that could be used as an office for a home business. With a footprint of barely 100m², every inch of space was precious and needed to be carefully considered for maximum efficiency.


Below is the plan of the existing house. I've added comments regarding the aspects of the plan that we feel didn’t work.. As you can see, there is definitely room for improvement!


The original plan, showing the full site


Aspects of the plan we didn't like

The biggest issue for us was the cross-flow between living areas and the private bedroom and bathroom areas. In order to get from the bathroom to the master bedroom after a shower, one would need to walk through the living room in a towel! Not ideal if the mother-in-law is visiting!

The next challenge was to improve and brighten the dimly lit areas of the house. Between the shadow of the mountain and the large tree in the neighbour's garden, the one end of the house received very little sunlight. With the original house being nearly 100 years old and having a very "cottagey" feel, we didn't feel that adding huge floor to ceiling glazing would have been the right thing to do. It didn't suit the feel or proportions of the house and it was also highly unlikely to have been approved by the heritage council at city planning.

This is our response:

The new proposal

Apart from the office at the back, and the relocation of the front entrance, the building footprint has not changed. Just by shifting some of the internal walls around a bit we have managed to improve on the following:

  • Improved flow to bedrooms and bathrooms. A small, single corridor shields the entrances to these rooms off the living area.

  • The bathroom is more generously sized and now incorporates a separate shower and its own toilet.

  • A separate guest bathroom with hand basin is provided.

  • The front door has been moved back so that one now enters on to the dining room. A small glazed addition acts as a lobby and provides additional light to this dark corner of the house.

  • Relocation of the front door frees up wall space in the lounge, allowing for more seating.

  • The dividing wall between the kitchen and the dining room has been removed to make both spaces feel larger. This will also assist with light flow between the spaces, especially as we lost the old kitchen window when the home office area was added. A glass door on to the garden and roof lights in the kitchen ceiling should more than compensate in terms of light.

  • The back entrance to the house is now through a new lobby that connects to the kitchen and pantry/ laundry.

  • There is access to the home office area without having to go outside, but separate doors to the outside also mean that guests need not pass through the house to get the office area for the occasional appointment.

  • Apart from the installation of the rooflights, the main roof remained untouched and no large trees were removed (the garden is quite green and lovely!)


On a side note:

The one thing we would have loved to have been able to create was a visual link through the house between the front and the back gardens. It would have been awesome to have been able to looking through the living room on to the dining area, through to the back garden. We really tried to make it work, but too many other aspects of the plan were compromised as a result, so we had to abandon the idea.