Two dream investments in one
Everyone has a dream home in their mind: a place where they would love to grow old. But what if your dream home is different to someone else’s?
Dr. Bjorn Wenngren and his business partner Per Tamm had a simple solution: split it in two.
After working with Save the Children for more than a decade in Cape Verde, where he met his wife, the doctor knew that he wanted to return to the islands to retire.
“We just found life there so pleasant,” he explains. “The first step was for each of us to buy a house.”
She bought a home near the main beach of Praia Laginha, while he purchased a four-bed townhouse in the middle of nearby Mindelo with his good friend. But the two partners couldn’t decide what to do with it. Dr. Wenngren wanted a medical practice. Per planned to open a coffee shop. So they compromised, dividing the home in two halves – a surgery upstairs and cafe downstairs.
The result is a versatile property that’s ideal for a small business.
“There’s easy access to the airport, the port, the local authorities…” agrees Dr Wenngren, as he opens the door to the unique building. “It’s near everything.”
He’s right. Ideally positioned at Praça Estrela in the centre of the town, the market is just around the corner, with the new marina only a few more minutes away. Praia Laginha, meanwhile is a quarter of an hour’s brisk walk down the road.
The central location has attracted a wide range of residents to the house over the years, from workers to emigrants.
“We don’t know very much about the early history of the house,” Bjorn admits, pointing out an old Portuguese cannon in the ground with its rear end pointing down. “We think the cannon was used by rope-makers to fix the ropes out the front.”
The first floor was added in 1937 when the house was being used for residence, he continues, along with an extension at the rear to include an unfitted kitchen. The family living there at that time eventually moved to the USA, he tells me, but the appeal of the Cape Verde lifestyle pulls everyone back eventually.
“Recently we met a returning emigrant who was born in the house in the 40s!” he laughs.
After that, the versatile house continued to be used for a range of purposes. It was a sports club for a long time before being abandoned to ruin. That’s where Dr. Wenngren stepped in:
“The previous owner had planned to completely demolish the house to make way for a new modern building, but we couldn’t stand the thought! Examination of the house showed it had stone walls of high quality despite the interior being in total disrepair. They keep the inside warm in the winter and the cool in the summer, so we prepared a new plan to keep the outer walls and reconstruct the inside to meet both our dreams.”
The conversion is effective, adding an entrance to the first floor from a side street and a separate water and electrical system for each floor. There’s even a wall at the top of the staircase to divide them.
The finished product is a charming property that’s as versatile as ever, ready to use for one or two businesses – a guest house, an office, a restaurant – or part-rented out to a tenant.
“After the renovation, Tamm was working in Africa and Latin America and I was in Asia and Africa so we decided to rent out the house until it was time to retire,” he explains.
“We have had several tenants in recent years,” he continues, “each as varied as the next. Downstairs there have been small businesses and shops. The last tenant had a shop for boat repairs and spare parts.”
Of course, the doctor points out, you could combine them into one big residence with two toilets on each floor – and a shower on the first floor – and get the most out of the spacious rooms.
“It would be easy for the next owner to remove the wall and reunite the two floors,” he says, slapping the wall cheerfully. “They may even want to change some of the other walls as well – we’ve only done basic upgrading of the house from the last tenant so there’s a lot of room for new ideas.”
Sadly, though, Dr. Wenngren and his partner won’t be the ones to do it: Mr. Tamm now has a bistro in Sao Pedro, meaning the pair no longer have a use for their unique property. But it’s still a dream investment for one person, Bjorn smiles. Or two.
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