Urbain McGee Architecture & Design, Cape Town


Works:Restoration, Alterations and Additions
Location:Muizenberg, Cape Town
Project Budget:R1 200 000.00
Status:Phase 1 completed 2017
Restoration, Alterations and Additions
Muizenberg, Cape Town
Project Budget:
R1 200 000
Phase I completed 2017

The original house, Ailsa Craig, was built on a section of the Klein Welgemeend farm estate, on the hill above Muizenberg village in the early 1920’s. It was commissioned by Florence McLaren, a visionary woman who built her home out of on-site sandstone over a three-year period. The name itself a reference to an uninhabited granite island off the western coast of Scotland, the house was to be her rock island refuge that sat mediating the quarry that it was built from and the expansive view east.

The original home encapsulated many of the period features that were common within housing at that time. The arrangement of the home was somewhat pre-Victorian and included an entrance reception room. All the prominent rooms on the ground floor and the staircase to the first floor were located in this area. The proportions of the rooms were generous, but very disconnected from one another. There was limited flow from room to room, without having to return to the entrance reception. Like many of the time’s buildings, the wet rooms (kitchen and bathroom) were limited in size and number and located at the rear of the property. At the time of purchase by the architect, the home still reflected this arrangement and was serviced by the single bathroom.

It was their desire to carry out a sensitive alteration to the ill-kept but little-changed original dwelling and to learn from the original features and newer interventions that made the house distinctive. The new additions were to reflect the quality and workmanship evident in the original house, but to communicate a new language of contemporary living and material juxtaposition. It was important to retain the character and warmth of the architectural tectonic throughout the house.


1. entrance reception

2. living Room

3. kitchen

4. dining room

5. pantry

6. guest bathroom

7. bedroom

8. bedroom

9. laundry

10. wood store

11. stairs

12. front stoep

13. front patio

14. courtyard

Taking cues from the early country villas, the house, on first impression, is symmetrical on its entrance access. It was the strength of this proposal and the unique entrance reception circulation that drove the intervention on the existing home. It was important for the architect that the home did not lose this arrangement and that the connection between the rooms be increased and encouraged. The rooms were to retain their original proportions but were to facilitate a greater flexibility in use and increased visual permeability throughout.

The geometric forms of the features and the warmth of the mixed template of natural timbers and semi-precious metals that were present in the house were to be explored and inspired the new additions and alterations.

Teak doors with bevelled glass were salvaged from a building yard and integrated into a new selected meranti timber frame in order to create a divider between the new living room and entrance reception opening. The double opening linked the two rooms more effectively. When closed, the ornamental glass-panelled doors assisted in reducing the acoustic transfer to the bedrooms and allowed both rooms to be efficiently heated while still retaining the visual connection between the two spaces. The triangulated forms echoed the original picture rail supports found throughout – a consistency in design detailing.


1. living Room

2. kitchen

3. dining room

4. master bedroom ensuite

5. store

6. phase II family room

With the strong prevailing winds in Muizenberg the original house did not provide much protected outside area. A large component of the new intervention was the removal of the utilitarian wet/service areas at the rear of the building and the conversion of these into positive living areas. The stone wall at the rear of the kitchen and the scullery was removed and the building form extended back into the mountain side. The existing external earth and stone retaining walls were incorporated into the interior of the house and a new roof built over to create a dining area off the kitchen.

The dining room was backed up into the ‘quarry’ and was opened on the north by two large sliding doors to a protected, light filled courtyard. The courtyard was to offer a small-scale, introverted experience that complemented the vast views to the east from the front of the house.

It was important that the new dining room be experienced as an external room, while at the same provided the opportunity for a phased development of a second storey above. Handmade terracotta floor tiles were used in the both the dining room and the courtyard reinforcing the idea of a single floor plane and a single space. The enclosure of the courtyard with the pergola assisted in this too. The red colour of the terracotta was selected to complement the sandstone, but also the original red-oxide concrete floor which was retained in the kitchen. A datum at the top of the rear stone wall was set and this would carry through to the courtyard and garden.

The second storey (Phase II) was planned to reinforce the positive relationship to the terraced garden at the rear.



1. stairwell

2. master bedroom

3. new ensuite

4. new walk-in cupboard

5. study/nursey

6. terrace

The original floor plan of the first floor included only the stairwell and two rooms over the entrance room and the bathroom on ground floor. They were centred on the plan and made use of the best and highest volume in the roof. In the phase I development two new rooms were added on the first floor within the remaining roof space either side of the original rooms. A new full ensuite was created on the slightly wider side (over the living room) and a dedicated walk-in-closet on the other (over the bedrooms).

The original roof form was not to be altered and the new rooms were to be arranged and contained within the existing pitch. New skylights were added to each room to encourage natural light and ventilation through the rooms. A ‘warmer’ palette of beech and Oregon timber, brass, copper and marble were specified for these areas.

The first floor offers spectacular views to north, east, south and the rising sun. The existing single door and masonry within the stone arch was removed and a new double door with supporting fan and side lights was incorporated into the stone arch to celebrate the dawning of a new perspective.

Photographs: Natalie Sternberg, Alexander McGee