THE STORY OF BERTHA'S GUEST FLATS
Written by Elsbeth Verhoeven, owner & founder
The building containing 4 flats – called Kana – was built during the second world war in 1942. It was erected on a small stand of ground. Behind the building is a smaller plot of 189 sq meters, with a double garage on it. The owner was Mr De Kock. During 1978, Mr Lutsch – my Father purchased the place which was still under rental control, which meant that the rental was a set amount. This changed in later years.
The 4 flats were reasonably sized at 128 sq meters and pretty neglected. There were no wardrobes in the rooms, nor cupboards in the kitchens. The floors were overtly polished, to the extent that one could not identify the wood below. My mother passed away in 1983 and us 3 siblings inherited the flat complex. My father died in 2001 leaving the 3 of us in control. At this stage I suggested to my brothers that I buy their shares. I had limited time to purchase the place, and with the help of a few experts to advise me, I managed to pay in cash. During October 2002 the building was registered in my name.
During 2003, I managed to renovate the first flat at a reasonable cost. I furnished it with items which I inherited and a few newly acquired items. At that stage, it seemed the wooden floors were Canadian Beech, frequently used to build squash courts. My husband and I painted the flat and halfway through 2003, we managed to get short term tenants for it. This worked well, and we could afford to renovate the second flat. The floors of this abode were rotten and we had to replace them with a hard Blue Gum variety from Africa. It has a beautiful colour.
During 2005 we used Lego blocks to build a small scale duplex house which we subsequently handed over to architect Schalk Pienaar. He put it on paper after which it was built on top of the double garage – a place which we would one day like to stay in ourselves. This place we called ZebetsView.
Funds were still limited, but we managed a one bedroom – which might turn out to be impractical for some people as the bathroom was eventually built on the floor below. The bedroom is directly below the roof and was thus fitted with air conditioning. The view from here is spectacular and looks out over the Jonkershoek mountains. Fortunately there are no neighbours close by and the views will be there forever. The small fireplace operates with wood and anthracite, and warms the building nicely during winter months. The solar panel on the roof provides warm water throughout the year, and the electric geyser stands in when the weather really turns cold. The stove has 2 electric- and 2 gas plates. When the electricity fails the gas comes in handy.
The furniture and art speak for themselves. The bathroom door has a copper-plated art piece fitted to it. The artist hails from the Tanganyika province of the Congo. Parents of a friend who lived in the Congo purchased 25 copper-plated art pieces from an artist as an investment. During the 1960 Congo war my friend’s parents moved to Belgium and stored the plates in a shed in Belgium. They were afraid that they might lose this treasure. After the war they went to South Africa and brought the copper plates along – if you used to live in Africa, you always come back to Africa. After the parents died, we asked our friend if we could buy two plates, the one plate is now on the bathroom door and the second plate with several masks on it hangs on one of the walls in ZebetsView.
The double bed in the bedroom was made in a small town called Boschfontein, using primitive tools. We were privileged enough to meet this artist and his two wives. Boschfontein is situated near the Mozambique border in the Kangwane area. There used to be a mission hospital called Shongwe. At this hospital were a few doctors who studied at Cape Town University. There was also a Zulu lady called Veronica Gumede who was a nurse. She was married to a Mozambican and could relate to the locals. It was Veronica who informed us about the artist who made wooden furniture. Veronica was our interpreter. We immediately placed an order for chairs, tables, benches, a bed and mirror frames. It was such an adventure! The chair seats were made from cattle skin called “riempies”. The skin was cut into thin strips and suspended from a tree branch with stones tied to the bottom ends. The strips are then twisted and turned around and around until tight, then left to roll down. This was repeated many times, until ready. This old method works best and the end product would last forever. After 35 years our chairs and seats are still in perfect condition. The workshop where this chap worked was on uneven ground and the machine he used was old and worn. It belonged to his Father and his Father taught him. The wood was fetched from the Lebombo mountains by the artist and his cattle dragged the huge wood logs back to the workshop. The wood is Kiaat – very beautiful and durable.
ZebetsView’s top floor furniture was hoisted into the house by using a ship’s pulley – tied to the camshaft in the roof. We purchased the pulley in Simons Town. The bottom floor furniture was lifted onto the balcony and carried in through the double doors.
The Yellow- and Embuia wooden chest came from Paarl and was made by a German called Knorr. He lived on top of his factory. Mr Knorr’s furniture was never displayed in shops. They sold themselves when seen in use in homes. I borrowed the money to pay, and it turned out to be worth every cent. The bottom of the chest is a campher panel and the aroma keeps fish moths at bay. We also have mosquito nets for “mozzie” time.
During 2010 we had saved enough to renovate a third flat from top to bottom. The floor of this flat is Oak. The roof trusses are made from Oregon Pine. We added a second bathroom to the backroom of this 3 bedroom flat. The double bed in this room was designed and built by my husband, Paul. The bed is heavy and wheels were fitted so it could be moved easily. The middle room has a bunk bed also made by Paul. One can actually sit upright in the bottom bed and there is a small light to enable one to lie down and read. The front room is large and the double doors open into a built-in veranda/stoep area.
The lounge has an adjustable table for 4 to 6 people. There is an air conditioner and a small library of books to enjoy. Each of the paintings on the walls tell their own story. One of them – a ship called Nyassa – belonged to the Germans. One of my uncles was captain of this ship and he worked for the German merchant fleet. His name was Walter Herm. He spent 65 years of his life on sea and 45 of those years as a captain.
During 2019 we completed the final arrangements of the property by raising the front wall and trellis fence. We added another remote controlled gate (there are now three gates) to line up with the wall and trellis work. With the aid of CCTv cameras we could secure the weak spots around the entire building.
Behind Kana and adjacent to the parking area, we created a lovely area to socialize with a 1,5 m deep splash pool to cool down during the hot summer months. Many a meal can be enjoyed outdoors in the space under the veranda or in the sun. An additional 2,5 m wall surrounds this area for more privacy. There are also electric points to work on a laptop or charge your cell phone.
Elsbeth & Paul Verhoeven, with their children Karel & Grethe