Restoring an old McGregor cottage is a challenging but exciting and creative task. My house, now on the market, was done in three stages, and has turned out really beautifully. Life has a way of prodding us into moving along, otherwise I'd still be living there, but it's time to cut my ties with McGregor. I'll always look back on my house with great affection, though.
The house is very old - we think the main cottage dates from around 1848 - and has long been a favourite amongst McGregorites. Many of the older folk, including Auntie Marie, the Leiwater Queen, claim to have been born in it, and many more to have lived in it. For some years it was also used as an art studio; the interior light is soft, cool and very lovely. It has certainly seen a lot of life - if only walls could talk!
Until recently, it consisted of two separate buildings. The pitched-roof cottage in front was thought to be the older building, with the flat-roofed building at the back being a later addition. At some stage, a stable was built on to the back section, and the original tethering bar of wood, with horse rings set into it, can still be seen in one of the back rooms.
Both buildings were in poor repair, the back section being particularly run down. Like most older McGregor buildings, they were built of sundried brick, and although the brickwork was in surprisingly good condition, the paint was cracked and unsightly and much of the plaster was crumbling. For a long time, the only ablution facilities consisted of a dilapidated and uncomfortable bathroom tacked onto the end of the back cottage. It contained a toilet, small washbasin and rudimentary shower, and there was no access to the bathroom from the house. There was no electricity in the house, either.
Then a lady called E. Brooks, usually known just as E, bought it, in around 2001. She reroofed and replastered the main cottage, electrified it and turned one of the bedrooms into a bathroom. (At that stage there were two bedrooms in the main cottage, and she installed bathroom fittings - basin, toilet and bath - in one of them. The room was still much too large for a bathroom, but at least it was now possible to have a hot bath in the main cottage!)
E also painted the main house pink. There is a widespread assumption in McGregor that the traditional colour scheme for houses is white with Heritage Green trim - rather like the Carol's House at the top of this page - but this is in fact false. Sundried brick houses were (and still should be) whitewashed, and various substances were added to the whitewash to give it colour. The traditional pink was obtained by adding bull's blood, but I think E used something a little less organic!
E eventually decided that she would rather build from scratch, and I bought the house from her in mid-2002. At that stage, the two cottages were still separate buildings, and the kitchen, such as it was (basically a double sink let into a very rickety wooden counter) was next to the kaggel in the main living room, a very inconvenient and unsightly location.
So it was time for Phase II, the project of restoring the back section and linking the two buildings. The logical person to involve was Bruno de Robillard, McGregor's most popular architect, and an expert on Cape Vernacular architecture.
Bruno designed the linking section on two levels, as the cottages were not level. He added various alcoves and storage areas, moved the bathroom wall back to create more space in the utility area, moved the sinks into the upper part of the link (which became a scullery which is invisible from the living room), and added a cooking island to the living room near the entrance to the link. And suddenly it was possible to cook while chatting to people in the living room, with the dishes, washing machine and cleaning equipment completely out of sight around the corner in the scullery.
He also closed off the external door to the back bathroom and broke through into the back cottage from the bathroom, so that the house now had two indoor bathrooms.
The little touches for which Bruno is renowned made all the difference, like adjusting the sink height to my elbow and forearm measurements, and moving the windows as far to the outside of their sills as possible to create the maximum depth of window-sill. And as usual, he created a variety of interesting alcoves and nooks for ornaments, candles or anything else I might wish to put there. Suddenly the house had come alive.