Architects and Builders


If you think our house is as beautiful as we do, you may want to know who designed it and who built it. Finally, after months of agonising waiting, I am going to tell you.

Let me say first off that finding the right people to handle these two tasks (really three if you include building/project management) was the single biggest reason we didn’t go completely insane on this project. Overall we feel happy and like we got what we wanted. And that’s largely down to two contractors.


Our architect is Andy Kriek from Modelink (he is, in fact, Modelink). Andy was recommended by a friend who has a beautiful house on Kensington Ridge and we just loved his approach.

Andy’s designs are characterised – and we’ve seen a few of them now – by a lot of glass and steel, and concrete. But within this he also has a way of creating interesting spaces within the home, and carefully working out how you will move between these spaces. The result are homes that feel wide open to the outside world but cosy and intimate at the same time.

Andy handles the entire project which includes taking a brief and imagining it into 2- and 3D images; getting all plans approved; dealing with the structural engineer, as well as recommending a host of excellent contractors. He takes on responsibility for delivering the whole project, including liaising with contractors we picked.

For an architect to take this amount of interest in, and responsibility for, a project is unusual. It avoids having to hire a separate project manager or building manager, and he is super-open to working with you on a frequent basis to make sure things work out the way you’d hoped.

He’s also a genuinely nice, intuitive and dedicated person, and a pleasure to work with.

If there are negatives they centre on his rather loose grasp of the financials of the project. Whether it’s optimism or enthusiasm, his cost estimates were wild underestimates and – as with any creative person – it’s best to double-check these kinds of things with someone more realistic.

Modelink/Andy Kriek: (011) 7265271



Many of the horror stories from building projects involve the builder themselves. No surprises there considering these are the people responsible for making the theory into reality.

The truth about building in South Africa is that most of the people doing the work are paid low wages and have learned their skill on the job. Building costs are actually one of the smaller items on your overall budget, ironically, thanks to the low cost of labour in South Africa.

No surprises then that this can be a hit-or-miss affair. Contact names for “a great builder” are passed around like your bobba’s recipe for chicken soup.

Well I can, happily, add a name to that list. We used Tight Brick Builders – recommended by our architect – and I can only describe them as excellent. Exacting, committed, patient and with a relentlessly positive attitude in the face of the usual building dramas, I can honestly say these are the good guys.

Norman – who owns the company – really loves the projects he works on, and frequently fixed things before we even noticed them. His instruction to us that whatever we were unhappy with they are happy to fix was tested on numerous occasions – and they always came through.

No builder is perfect. Wandering through the mosques of Turkey or the cathedrals in Europe you would be forgiven for thinking: if that’s what people could do with their bare hands and simple tools hundreds of years ago, imagine what perfection they could attain today. Sadly this is not the case and my house, much as I love it, will be a pile of dust long before the Hagia Sofia or even the Great Pyramid.

I see many small things that are skew or scratched or slightly sagging (wall, tiles and ceiling, respectively) but these are minor, and inescapable, defects. Overall I am delighted with the workmanship and commitment shown by Norman and his team and I’d highly recommend them.

Tight Brick Builders – (083) 7265813

Word to the wise – and I’ll write a whole post about this soon – your biggest variable is the cost of materials, including glass, steel etc. In any future building project I would spend a lot more time interrogating the quoted quantities of these with both architect and builder.


Right, now this may not seem the most logical place to start but since many people are grappling with spiralling electricity costs, fears of further load-shedding and a general do-gooderness and wanting to save the earth…it’s bound to be a popular topic.

It is a fact that houses built from scratch now need to have some kind of alternative geyser arrangement (not Eskom power in other words) and that glass needs to be, at least, coated with an insulating film. But that doesn’t answer the big questions about power consumption.

Old-Style Geysers

Your first big dilemma is what kind of geyser to put in – or replace. Your old-style, and possibly old, electric geyser is as bad as people say it is. It chews up massive energy, constantly heats itself up, usually to a temperature that’s too hot, and then promptly empties just when you need some extra hot water.

If you are planning on keeping your current geyser you’re going to want to – at the very least – do all of the following things:

  1. Wrap it in a geyser blanket – not an expensive thing to do and it does make a big difference to how long the geyser stays warm, and how long it takes to warm up. You can get this at any Builder’s Warehouse-type place.
  2. Put it on a timer – a very simple modification to your DB Board allows a timer unit, which costs a few hundred rand from a place like Manly’s Plumbing on Jan Smuts, to be installed. This can be set to run the geyser for a few hours a day and, in combination with a blanket, that can be enough for hot water whenever you need it. The unit I have allows me to set different time intervals and also configure it per day so that I can run it longer when I expect to need more water.
  3. Turn down the maximum temperature – if you’re always having to put on the cold water to temper the hot then why heat it to that temperature in the first place. The exception might be the kitchen sink where you may want to scald the living crap out of your plates and pots. But I’d suggest using a kettle for that and saving a lot of money for the other 23 hours a day.

There’s not much more you can do about electric geysers. There are better, more energy efficient models on the market but if you’re going to do a full replacement it’s worth considering something less fossil-fuel guzzling.

If this is where you’re headed, there are three options: solar, gas and heat pumps.

Solar Geysers

The darling of the eco set, solar geysers appear to work like magic. They consume no energy but deliver hot water whenever you need it with just the mystical power of the sun.

That’s the theory.

The reality is that solar has three drawbacks:

  1. Cost: solar geysers cost a lot of money to install – something like 5 times as much as a regular geyser and at least 3 times as much as gas (see below). That may not worry you but when you calculate the actual savings you will get monthly, you will discover that there is a considerably long break-even time ahead of you. In the long-term, yes, this is the best option. But we’re talking 5+ years at least.
  2. What if it’s not sunny?: one of the big misconceptions about solar in general is that it somehow stores energy when it’s not sunny. This is not true, unless you have batteries which add massively to the install costs. So that means on cloudy days (and at night) your geyser will not heat. Which may not be a problem if you have enough water to see you through. But when it isn’t using solar, guess what, it’s using normal electricity. In a place like Joburg it’s sunny a lot, so you’ll still save money, but every time you’re using normal electricity you’re eating away at that break-even date.
  3. Constant heating: like a normal geyser, a solar geyser heats all the time. Not a problem if you’re using the sun but depending on geyser size this does mean you need a sufficiently large solar array to heat it in reasonable time. And, as stated above, once the water runs out you have to wait for it to heat up again like a normal geyser.

I’ll talk more about solar energy in general later but the point here is: solar is a great choice, it’s eco-friendly and cheap over the long-term. But it’s not cheap upfront and the payback time is long. And all you need is one vicious hailstorm to smash your panels and your breakeven might move completely out of reach.

Heat Pumps

Ok so Option 2 is a heat pump. A heat pump is, essentially, an air conditioner in reverse. It takes in cold air and produces hot air. And that heats the water in the boiler.

It is a lot more efficient than a normal geyser (3-4 times) and therefore is a great way to save money compared with traditional geysers. It’s also cheaper than solar to install, doesn’t require big solar panels on your roof and works at night and on cold or rainy days. They can also be retrofitted to your existing geyser.

The big flaw with heat pumps are that they are still electrical devices – efficient, yes, but electrical. That means when there’s load-shedding your heat pump will not run. Which means no hot water for you.

In theory heat pumps can also be configured to do other stuff like underfloor heating and heating your pool – but on investigation you will discover that all this doesn’t come for free and ultimately the overall financial outlay for all this stuff is considerable.

Finally, these are imported devices by and large. That means with the rand at it’s current level you are buying a pretty expensive piece of equipment. And depending on your geyser size you need a fairly big heat pump.

All that being said, if you’re bullish about Eskom’s ability to supply you with reliable electricity, a heat pump is a good option and is certainly a major improvement on traditional geyser at a better cost than solar.


So, we come to the option we picked. There are two types of gas boilers: one that works like a normal geyser and heats the unit up to a required temperature at all times. The other heats the water on demand only. If you’ve stayed in rustic holiday accommodation you will be familiar with a version of these gas geysers which have a pilot light burning at all times which then fires into full action when you turn on a tap.

The modern version of this uses electricity to light the gas and then heats the water as it moves through the pipes as you need it. The beauty of this is that you are using incredibly little energy compared with any other heating method.

The electricity required to light the geyser is minimal and you can attach a UPS device (essentially a battery) which will light the unit if there is a power failure or load shedding.

Depending on the size needed this still costs a lot more than and old style geyser but is considerably cheaper than solar or a heat pump, runs in all weathers, uses practically no electricity and as long as you don’t run endless baths all day long, very little gas.

Installing gas, of course, is extra unless you’re on a gas line – and you have to buy the gas, have the large bottles replaced and so forth. But gas consumption really is minimal: we have been running our 2 gas geysers and gas stove almost every day for close on five months and we still haven’t used one of the large gas bottles up.

Of course gas has its own drawbacks: the price is volatile because unlike the sun it’s not free; and every winter there is a period where gas supposedly runs out. When Eskom’s power stations stop City Power uses gas as a backup in some instances and so in theory there could be a shortage. Personally I’ve never seen this happen but of course there is a risk if you think it might.

Apart from that the obvious sense that it makes to only heat water as you need it with a cheap energy source seems unbeatable to me – and we’re really happy with the solution.

We used Florad ( to supply the gas geyser, and High Speed Gas ( to install the gas bottles and connect it all up. I’d recommend both vendors – they’re knowledgeable and helpful and (thus far) the products supplied work as advertised.

Florad also do supply both solar and heat pumps so are good people to explain more thoroughly the relative benefits and costs.

Vendors we Recommend

Ok so looking back over 14 months of building we are now in a position where we can share our recommended (and not recommended) vendors. Most are Joburg-based, given that’s where we are, but some are not.

This article will be an index of a bunch of sub-articles which I will write for different categories.

Sarah has already shared her piece on tiles, so we can start there and move on. Hope this is  helpful.

  1. Finding Tiles
  2. Geysers

Top 5 Things to Consider Before Renovating

Hello good people. My blogging tool tells me it’s been five months since my last confession – that’s pretty ridiculous.

Why is that? Well, largely because this project has dragged on and on and on. I keep thinking I’m going to make a series of “retrospective” posts where I look back at the finished project and say what wisdom I’ve gained. But truthfully we are not yet at the end.

Nevertheless, here is a quick update and the first of those retrospectives:

So, the main part of the house is complete. It looks a lot like it looked in the last post but I’ll post a full batch of photos shortly.

The problem is all the things that aren’t complete – mainly the boundary walls which have had to be stripped and replastered at a ridiculous cost; and the brand new steps which were finished with some god-awful substance that cracked almost as soon as it was laid. So we are now re-doing the steps. The brand new steps.

Anyway…here is a list of the Top 5 Things to Consider Before Renovating (or Building)

  1. Are you sure you’d rather not just buy a new house?
    Ah yes, the dream of doing things exactly the way you’d like them; the romance of poring over architects drawings and making Pinterest boards and choosing tiles and finishes.
    That stuff is actually true. But the reality is that this will be one of the most demanding and gruelling undertakings of your life. And you will not end up with exactly what you’d imagined for a billion reasons. Buying a new house might not be exactly what you want – but it will be easier and, quite possibly, cheaper.
  2. Do you have good enough taste?
    I don’t want to be mean BUT if there was ever a moment to question your sense of taste, style and design it’s before you embark on a wildly expensive renovation project. You will be asked a thousand questions about which taps, which tiles, which paint, which curtains etc. etc. Of course there are people to advise you but you will still have to make plenty of decisions. If you have a knack for picking great stuff then this is the project for you. If you routinely leave the house with mismatched clothes consider buying someone else’s house (and taste).
  3. Do you have the money?
    My project – like most building projects – went way over budget. I’ll write up a whole thing about budgets later. But don’t kid yourself: no matter what you do, and I mean no matter what, you will spend more than you’d planned to. And if what you’d planned to already felt financially crippling, I strongly recommend waiting on, avoiding or scaling back your project. It not costs a lot but it’s also a cashflow issue: unlike a home loan, renovations cost money now. Sure you can get the cash from your access bond if you have it but that may not prevent you running into serious financial problems if you suddenly need to pay a large, unplanned amount.
  4. Can you handle the stress?
    This includes: can you and your partner handle the stress. This stress will come in many forms: things costing too much, shit going wrong (all flavours), people letting you down, things taking too long, living in chaos, noise and mess; neighbours complaining; kids complaining; you complaining, contractors complaining; time off work while you drive to the Builder’s Warehouse for the 100th time to buy a can of sealant someone can’t live without.
    You need to try to be realistic about this upfront: if you’re not good at stress, or you and your partner fight about stuff at the drop of a hat, or you cash-strapped or you just don’t need any more hassle in your life: DO NOT BUILD ANYTHING.
  5. How much value can your property take?
    Because you are putting money into this project, you should ask yourself how much you will be able to increase the sale price of your property by. That depends on how much you bought it for, how much values in your area are increasing by, how much the renovation will add and when you plan to sell.
    The things that add value are, ironically, the parts of the project you may be least enthusiastic about. Put another way: the cool features like that new alarm system or home theatre or that quirky bathroom tile are often too much about you for someone else to care about. Everyone wants to stamp their individuality on a place and so they look for structural features and tend to change the bathroom and the kitchen you thought were so incredible.
    I consulted an estate agent before we renovated to see what she’d put the changed house on the market for. But a good rule of thumb is: don’t spend more than say 10 or 20% of your money on stuff that is an expression of yourself. Keep to the basics: new rooms, improved flow, more light etc. That’ll be the stuff that others look for if and when you sell your masterpiece.


Approaching the Beginning of the Beginning of the End of the Project

So, it’s a been a while. That’s partly due to a lot of stuff going on in life in general, but also because this project is both startling in how frequently thing change; and also frustrating in how the end keeps being just out of view.

Ok so here are a few recent pics of the house as it is now looking. A number of major items are still outstanding: flooring, cabinetry, fireplace, and finalisations of almost everything from painting, to polishing the concrete steps to fixes fixes fixes. And, of course, the kitchen which is currently non-existent.

I will also say that the financial side of things has gone from slightly worrying to borderline apocalyptic. Which doesn’t mean we’re facing bankruptcy but it does mean that costs keep pouring in: unplanned, unexpected and way, way more than what we were quoted.

The pool with a view onto the new (giant) window in front of the kitchen
Similar view – to the right of the big window is the new passageway to the new section
The new section, finally with all its glass installed. Bedroom is downstairs
A view of the new bathroom, with engineered wood floors and the amazing new bathtub in position
The view from the new master bedroom into the garden. This was, ultimately, where we started – wanting a bedroom in the garden
A view from upstairs. This has a lovely view, particularly at sunset. Clear view balustrade is now in place
Finally, a view onto the new pool area with lovely new concrete tiles and some of the new library and reception area

So, that’s more or less where we are. A lot has happened – a lot of money has changed hands, more of both to come.

Most popular question: when?

We think another month.

We could be wrong.

All about tiles

Guest Written by Sarah Blake (@blakey)

(I’ve been promising Jarred that I would do some posts as well – so this is long overdue!)

Jarred mentioned the many, many decisions needed when doing a renovation, and one of those has been tiles. As with many areas of the house, it’s easy to carried away by Pinterest (and amazing Swedish designed encaustic tiles), but then reality and budget hits.

And again, as with many areas of the house, months of research and choosing then rejecting ideas and options has really paid off with us getting some beautiful and striking tiles for our house. In fact, seeing some of the tiles now in really felt like a big step (for me) of the house becoming a home. The rest of the work has been mostly structural, and of course based very much on the vision of the architect (with our input). The tiles going in felt like the first of the decisions that we had made from scratch coming to life, and thankfully it feels like we made good decisions.

I’ve put a list at the bottom of this post of tile suppliers in SA that I would recommend based on the experience of this project. We didn’t get tiles from all of them, but they’re all suppliers that I will certainly keep on hand for future projects. (And a starting list like this would have been very helpful to us.)

We decided early on that we would like to do something quite striking with the new main shower, especially as it could become a feature that is seen from the garden or other areas of the house. (Although, given that it’s our shower, we might end up with screens so that it is seen a little less!) I also think that, if you have the space, a large bathroom that you love is a wonderful indulgence. We’d already chosen great fittings from OXO bathrooms, including a luxurious freestanding bath (can’t wait to have that installed – and then I think I will have bubble baths and wine every day ha ha). We wanted a beautiful shower to complement that.

We looked at getting custom tiles made, but the shower proportions are very generous, and the price of that quickly moved us too far along the indulgence scale. We had looked at encaustic (Moroccan) tiles in Johannesburg, but couldn’t find what we wanted. We briefly considered a long rectangular, off-white tile from Italtile, but when Andy the architect saw it and said “oh, metro tiles, everyone is doing those”, it fell out of favour with me.

Luckily we travel to Cape Town frequently, so I was able to stop in at Moroccan Warehouse on a trip. I got in touch with the owner, Kundra, and she very kindly supplied lists and images over email of the available tiles. I 3-D modelled some options for us, and we placed the order.

And now, they’re in and they look amazing. And they’re about the same square metre cost of the white tile from Italtile, but they’re bold, unique and distinctive. Watching them go in was great, and then seeing the colours getting more brilliant with the sealer being applied confirmed we made the right choice. We chose a hexagon mosaic tile to go of the floor.


The amazing shower in progress.


Moroccan tiles from Moroccan Warehouse in Cape Town

All of the builders have been commenting about our “special shower”, and I certainly can’t wait to use it.

Other tile choices:

From Tilespace, we chose rectangular tiles in three colours, which have been tiled in a herringbone pattern on the outdoor shower. Using a different pattern is a good way of taking “ordinary” tiles and turning them into something quite special.


A herringbone pattern for the upstairs shower

We surprised ourselves by choosing handpainted Mexican tiles for our swimming pool (still to be installed at time of writing). We were going for a plain black tile, but had some talavera tile samples we’d bought from Hadeda (a brief consideration for stair risers, until we realised just how many metres of stair risers we have). There wasn’t sufficient stock of the geometric tile, and someone suggested a mix of tiles. That’s what we’ve gone for, and they’re looking great. They are actually a good complement to the Moroccan tiles in the shower.


Laying out the tile mix for the pool

I’ve also learned more about pool coping than I ever thought I would want to know. Coping refers to the tiles around the edge of your pool, or on the edge of stairs. We had already chosen an outdoor tile, but were not happy with the coping options to go with the tile. Some extensive Google searching later, I came across Wilson Stone in Johannesburg. We went there to look at coping options, and realised that we preferred their tiles to what we had chosen. Luckily, no deposits had been made, and now have lovely, made in SA, tiles arriving this week.

Other tips / things I learned: There are a lot of grouting options (including glitter grout from Italtile if that’s your thing). Grout choice can really change the overall look. We’ve gone for dark grey throughout, which disappears beautifully with the Moroccan tiles, and gives a nice outline to plain colour tiles.

You can get black grout easily, no matter what Builder’s Express says. We found at several other hardware shops. (Black grout is for the pool.)

Likewise, the spacing between tiles can really change the look. Tile spacers start at 2mm, and go much higher.

Look at different layout options to create a different look and feel for your tiles. There are lots of references all over Pinterest.

You generally need to buy 10% more tiles than required to account for breakages, especially if there is cutting needed on the tiles. This can change depending on type of tile, so it’s worth looking at what’s needed and whether or not tiles can be returned. With large patterned tiles you might need more, depending on what areas need to be covered. With mosaic tile sheets you don’t need much extra.

You need waterproof cement for the pool. Buy this from a pool shop, or buy regular tile cement to which you add a liquid that makes it waterproof from a hardware store. It’s cheaper from the hardware store.

Tile suppliers

Handmade in SA

Southern Art Ceramic Design

Custom tiles made in South Africa. They are super helpful and quick to get back to you. Ask to look at surplus stocks for inspiration, or perhaps find the tiles of your dreams already made! Ships from Western Cape. I’m hoping that we might be able to get tiles for the kitchen from here.


Well priced and beautiful quarry floor tiles. New bespoke range of ceramic wall tiles in clean. modern geometric designs. Ship from Western Cape.

Wilson Stone

Outdoor paving and coping, made in South Africa. We are using these tiles on the outside deck and for the pool coping. Showroom: 157 Queen Str, Kensington, Johannesburg

Morrocan and Mexican Tiles

Hadeda in Johannesburg

Encaustic cement tiles (Moroccan tiles – made in Vietnam) and hand-painted Mexican tiles. All available tiles are listed on the website. We bought the tiles for our swimming pool here.

Moroccan Warehouse in Cape Town
Crnr Buitenkant & Commercial Street, Cape Town CBD, 8001

Phone: 021 461 8318

Kundra was so helpful, and emailed us lists of all tiles in stock, and coming on shipments, as well as helping us to see which patterns actually had sufficient stock for us. She arranged the shipping from Cape Town, and they all arrived quickly and with no breakages! Sealant and instructions came with the shipment. We bought the tiles for our main shower here.

Mexican Imports

I chatted with them online when we were looking at tiles for the pool, and they were super helpful. Ship from Plettenberg Bay.

The bigger guys – imports


Showrooms in Johannesburg and Cape Town. We discovered this store by accident (we were driving past it and went in on a whim), and we’re so glad we did. Large range of beautiful imported tiles, and very reasonably priced (like, 1/3 of what we were expecting based on Italtile experience). We bought the outdoor shower tiles here.

Douglas Jones
They really have the market cornered on mosaics, and are available through most large tile stores, including Italtile and Tilespace. We bought shower floor tiles here.

The Building Update

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here as we have been in the throes of choices. Choices! Wow, if only anyone had told me the number of individual items we would have to pick in this project. Ok, I’m not sure what would have changed if they had but I might have been more prepared. With better whisky. Or not been on a weird diet that has forced me to stop drinking for the past 5 weeks.

So the project is now at a stage where the main structural work is finished. There are three things to come: finishing up the new structure – our bedroom and the new storey room – with glass and fittings; replacing the front area of the main house with new glass windows and door; and restructuring the kitchen.

Also, most of the scary costs are in. This project has run wildly over-budget, as expected if not anticipated. I am trying to be philosophical about it and also focus on the amazing house we will have at the end of this.

I will do a full cost analysis at a later stage which I think will be helpful to people doing building projects. I have to say we haven’t been especially budget-conscious – we haven’t fought for discounts, for example, which I know others with more canny ways might have done. And we have let ourselves fall in love with certain finishes to the detriment of our budget.

That said, I do think we are investing in a home that will sell for at least the value bought for and invested here. So I am not that freaked out. Perhaps that’s mid-project wishful thinking.

IMG_0541 IMG_0540
IMG_0536 IMG_4821

So clockwise what we have here is the main new structure visible from the deck of the existing house, with the new swimming pool; the beginnings of work on the existing house – this room is changing from being a dining room into being a library (which Sarah insists on filling with actual books instead of just 2 Kindles); the beautiful tile work on the new shower – surrounded by glass this is going to look (as our architect is fond of saying) stunning; and finally a view up our new, long staircase toward the whole house.