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PUBLISHED: 12:08 11 April 2008 | UPDATED: 15:06 20 February 2013

'All of the floorboards upstairs were in good enough condition to be polished up, saving me a lot of money as well as adding character,' says Suzanne

'All of the floorboards upstairs were in good enough condition to be polished up, saving me a lot of money as well as adding character,' says Suzanne

Suzanne Woodley took on this exciting interior design project to turn a funeral director's premises in Leigh-on-Sea into a unique, spacious home


HAVING admired the coastal area in Essex for many years, Suzanne Woodley snapped up the chance to purchase an old business premises in Leigh-on-Sea which had come up for sale as a residential property. 'When I viewed the building it was still filled with large machinery and lifting equipment,' recalls Suzanne, 'as it had been used as a local funeral directors for many years.'

The upstairs had been offices but the downstairs was a large open space of workshops and storage. Undaunted by the building's unusual past, as well as the extent of work which would be involved in the property's re-development, Suzanne took on the task believing that it was a great investment.

'Although there was a huge amount to do,' explains Suzanne, 'from the roof to the ground floor I felt that the potential outweighed the risks and I would end up with a beautiful property that I could either sell or simply enjoy living in.'

With a positive attitude and some great plans, Suzanne moved in. 'I got a lot of necessary information from the survey that I had done on the building and from that made a list of work to be done.' The list was pages and pages of some fairly major jobs like re-roofing and making the large open space on the ground floor into more useful rooms as well as things like replacing old floorboards and timbers on the exterior. 'When I first came to live here it felt strange to be in such an expansive place, but before too long it began to feel more and more like a house.'

Inside the house, Suzanne left the exposed vaulted ceiling on the first floor and made the space into a luxurious open-plan dining and living area with great views out to sea. 'It was such a light space and I thought it would make a great place for entertaining as well as relaxing. When I moved to the house the doors which now open out onto a small balcony upstairs had been used as a semi-open winching area, so the builders simply built in new doors which could be opened in summer to bring the sea breeze in,' explains Suzanne.

Suzanne then decorated the room in neutral colours so as not to take focus away from the natural beauty before filling it with carefully-chosen furnishings, some of which from the interiors shop where she works.

The only separate rooms upstairs were the previous offices. Suzanne used two of these as bedrooms, both overlooking the sea, and the remaining one as a bathroom. This was the part of the house where the walls were at their worst and an extensive amount of bonding and plastering had to be done before decorating could be considered. Once the work had been carried out and the dust had settled Suzanne chose to decorate the three rooms simply and let furnishings and art be the focal points.

In contrast to the first floor of the house, downstairs Suzanne needed to divide the space up a bit more, making practical rooms and getting away from the commercial feel that the place had at that time. When she initially moved in, the kitchen was really just an area in the building where the staff were able to make drinks.

Suzanne bought all of the individual appliances from a local supplier so as to get the look she was after and eventually the room was beautifully transformed into a fully-functioning contemporary kitchen.

The transformation of the property from business premises to residential home could have been a daunting prospect for Suzanne, but with the legalities of that all being completed before Suzanne had bought the property, the problems which that may have entailed had been dealt with. 'Making this large lofty building into a home was always an investment for me,' says Suzanne, 'but as I've lived through it's incredible change I don't know how easy it would be for me to leave it.'

As well as enjoying the house itself, Suzanne is very fond of the general location of the property, which is much sought after.

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