Creativity in abundance and a magpie-like eye for a good find have earned Rob and Tammy Foote of Port Elizabeth our Fix it with Flair 2011 crown.
The Friendly City’s folk would probably have cast dubious glances at this couple, had they seen them digging through a rubbish dump on Christmas Eve. But that wouldn’t have bothered Tammy and Rob, because they were gathering wonderful finds – from broken tiles for a mosaic tabletop, to old fabrics to weave into a blanket for brittany sofa. After five years in Japan, this intrepid couple returned home with far fewer savings than they had anticipated. Luckily, Tammy’s mother bought a home of barely 70m2 in Richmond Hill, one of Port Elizabeth’s oldest suburbs. But the couple were on their own when it came to renovations because there simply wasn’t money for building materials and furniture. Fortunately, the couple is blessed with an abundance of creativity – and they were prepared for the backbreaking work involved. The house occupied the full corner stand with space for only a car in the back garden behind a garage door that fronted on the street. But the up-and-coming neighborhood is popular with young people keen to snap up and restore the 19th-century houses. And on top of that, it’s not far from the ocean, making it ideal for a surfer like Rob.
Open to suggestion
The biggest structural alteration was breaking out the walls between the minute kitchen and the living room to create an open plan living area. And, as damp was a problem, the kitchen cupboards had to go too. ‘We scraped more than 100 years of paint off the wall,’ Tammy recalls. Next, everything was thoroughly sealed and painted white. To Rob and Tammy’s dismay, the original Oregon-pine floorboards were either infested with borers or rotting from damp and had to be replaced. So they chose the most affordable option – laminated wood floors. And because they wanted to keep the house’s old-world feel, they were set on broad skirting boards which they found in a junk shop. But these were covered in layer upon layer of paint, so Tammy got stuck in with a heat gun and her grandfather’s industrial sander – with highly impressive results.
Cooking with class
Just because Rob is a professional illustrator doesn’t mean he’s not capable of hard work – he designed and built the kitchen himself. ‘Space really was scarce, so we had to use every millimeter and create multipurpose pieces. The central counter was the starting point. It has castors and serves as a workspace, or a dining or entertainment area – we wheel it wherever it’s needed,’ he says. ‘And we didn’t want sore backs again after those years in Japan where everything’s so low, so our cupboards are 1m high and not 800 or 900mm.’
The pine countertops are a sturdy 60mm thick, so they look like butcher’s blocks finished with an ordinary sealer, Woodoc 20, to which a Full Moon tint was added. But the lovely white shade is also partly thanks to the effort Tammy put into sanding the surfaces silky-smooth. Some of the cupboard doors are made of old shutters fitted with glass, while Tammy turned old fish knives from her mother’s catering company into door handles. The couple chose a shade of grey for the focal wall, accenting it in white and blue.
‘The white mosaic tiles were only R14 per sheet and the sheets of colored tiles cost R40 each. To save, we bought a few colored sheets and worked them in among the white tiles,’ Rob says. ‘I must say it looked great once we’d finished. But only for a few days because we got a puppy – Lula – who chewed everything in sight!’ But Lula stole their hearts, so they simply looked the other way – and she’ll have other things to focus on from June when she gets a human baby brother or sister.
The woven furniture in the living area is actually patio furniture that Tammy specifically chose for its rich, textured appearance. She made the covers herself, as well as the oversized, scatter cushions. The coffee table is an old piece given new life with the same finish as the kitchen cupboards. Tammy and a partner launched a new company, TLC, in the Cape last year that buys, restores – or ‘upcycles’ – and sells old furniture, a great passion of hers.
‘The master bedroom probably looked the worst. The walls were bright orange and one was completely covered in mirrors!’ shudders Tammy. The mirrors were carefully removed to be used elsewhere and the walls were painted over in no uncertain terms. The room didn’t have any cupboards, so they built their own from a gift of old shutters, while Zimbabwean craftsmen made the baskets to measure. Old floorboards from Tammy’s mother’s home were used to make the headboard. ‘We’re lucky the weathered look is so fashionable because it made our lives a lot easier!’ Rob jokes. Living so close to the ocean, marine shades of pale blue, turquoise and sea green were a natural choice.
Refreshing in white
The dark bathroom also needed a revamp to ft the look of rest of the house and while the couple’s budget didn’t allow for a complete makeover, fortunately, the plumbing was sound. A larger window was installed to bring more light into the now white-walled room. Tongue-and-groove wooden wall panels softened the look and an old cupboard was installed under the new washbasin – the one new addition, as the existing one was damaged. Leftover kitchen tiles found a home here too. ‘We wanted to create a cottage feel, but had to do it with what we had. In time, we want to do more here,’ Tammy says.
All decked out
‘The deck was our final project and it gives us a beautiful view over the Port Elizabeth harbor,’ a proud Rob says of the structure raised over the parking bay to serve as a summer entertainment area. The railings are from an old sawmill, while the stairs were bought from Pennypinchers. The balau deck was left untreated to weather to a natural grey, while the stairs conceal a small storage room. Tammy extended the marine theme to this outside area with colorful accessories in red and sea green.