Sea Change

PUBLISHED: 12:04 11 April 2008 | UPDATED: 15:06 20 February 2013

These two bits of furniture help Ruby store her cooking utensils

These two bits of furniture help Ruby store her cooking utensils

Ruby Ratcliffe reveals the trails and tribulations of transforming the damp basement of her Southend home into a modern minimalist kitchen with a split-level dining area

WHEN you enter this modest-looking terraced house in Southend the last thing you would imagine to find is a spacious basement kitchen which cleverly incorporates a split level floor leading to a large dining area.

The houses were built originally as a row of fishermans cottages complete with a small covered slipway in between each house, just big enough for a small boat to be dry moored and locked up behind the timber doors. Within the house are many other original features, many of which are in keeping with a house that is very close to the sea.

Unfortunately for Ruby Ratcliffe, the damp basement was another symptom of the property's proximity to the seafront. The house had flooded badly during the 1950s and for many years the walls of her basement were literally sitting in the sea.

'The lower ground floor was actually three rooms,' explains Ruby, 'but I couldn't really make any use of any of them due to the crumbling walls and mildew.' A team of builders had to strip the plaster from the walls and remove the floor before they could get machines in to dry out the fabric of the house. It was while the room was gutted and partition walls removed that Ruby realised how she wanted to use it. She had chosen to keep the room as one space and not replace the walls which had previously split the one big room into three. She liked the idea of having a dining area which would allow for plenty of room around the table and floor space in the kitchen.

Fresh Look
Ruby wanted to give the room a fresh look and her choice of green walls and light-coloured units made a good place to start. Ruby didn't want to let the room become cluttered with unnecessary cupboards so she cleverly incorporated one long unit for the sink and draining area with two glass fronted cabinets either side of the window and two additional free-standing units.

This left Ruby with a lot of floor space in the kitchen area even after she had a large Smeg oven and hob fitted into an original fireplace. 'For a time after the kitchen had been delivered I was a little anxious that it would all look too crammed,' says Ruby, 'but it all fitted and the unit with glass drawers divides the two parts of the room really well.'

The remaining unit was fitted against another wall and Ruby fitted some shelves above. Together the unit and shelves provided the impression of a contemporary sideboard which not only looks good but is an invaluable item as far as storage and display goes. 'People often say that minimalist kitchens are impractical,' smiles Ruby, 'but the last thing I wanted was wall-to-wall units, I just don't need them.'

Table Trouble
Ruby had wanted to allow enough space around a table for six people comfortably. A hunt for a table had been unsuccessful until she found this stylish table with legs similar to the units and the stone surface providing an elegant finish. The only problem was the size of it. 'When it was delivered it was impossible to get down the stairs which the builders had recently finished,' explains Ruby. 'Even with the window at the front of the house removed it still wouldn't fit. I was so embarrassed, I had completely overlooked this potential problem; but I loved that table.'

Out came the staircase and in went the table and a very grateful Ruby could stand back and admire the finished look. The room had an incredibly calm feel about it which is just what you need to come home to at the end of a tiring day. 'There were many ups and downs,' smiles Ruby, 'but looking at the finished room I wouldn't have changed a thing.'


  • Ruby can laugh about it now, but her advice to anyone would be to take your tape measure when you go shopping for furniture. It really did make a lot of extra work for the builders
  • It can be just as annoying to fit too many units in a kitchen, so put some time aside to really work out your personal needs and try not to be swayed by seeing a show kitchen and thinking you have to have it all
  • If you decide to have wooden work surfaces you must keep them well oiled to keep them looking good
  • If you need to have major buiding work undertaken do take the advice of a good builder. In this case Ruby would have had constant problems with reappearing damp had she not had the walls sorted out


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