Modern times

An architect couple used an armoury of money- and space-saving ideas when remodelling their Victorian home
Ruth and Andrew Campbell’s home in East Dulwich is the perfect showcase for their burgeoning architecture career. They designed it to show how a typical Victorian two-up, two-down can be given a dramatic modern makeover and conversion for less than £100,000.

The newly married couple bought the house in 2002 for £200,000 and lived in it for a year before work began. It took a year to complete and was recently valued at £500,000. The first step was to get planning permission to build a side-return extension and open up the existing kitchen.

Once planning permission was granted, they engaged a structural engineer.

The most significant saving was made when Ruth installed an IKEA Abstrakt kitchen, running down both sides of the room. One wall consists of full-height white, lacquered units, which house everything from the fridge-freezer to groceries. On the facing wall, the units are red and waist-height. These hold everything else, from the pots and pans to the dishwasher.

A typical two-up, two-down gets a modern twist
A typical two-up, two-down gets a modern twist
“People are surprised to find the units come from IKEA. But if you design well around them, use an excellent builder and finish them with good details, such as flooring and accessories, they are perfectly functional,” she says.

The floor is made from ceramic tiles that look like slate, from Architectural Ceramics, laid over underfloor heating. The main work surface is a sealed, cast concrete slab running on top of the red units, with a Baumatic cooker and hob at one end and a sink at the other. “We didn’t want the clutter of a splashback, so we used paint that we could wipe down,” Ruth explains.

On the wall that faces the garden, shelves display the couple’s ever-changing collection of colourful glass vases. On the other side a sheet of galvanised steel sprayed white holds 30 IKEA Grundthal spice jars in place with magnets.

Huge double-glazed sliding doors retract completely to transform the small garden into a continuation of the kitchen. Ruth and Andrew continued the row of IKEA units into the garden, using them as their “garden shed” to store everything from tools to a collapsible lawnmower.

Architects Andrew and Ruth Campbell
Architects Andrew and Ruth Campbell
The tiles also continue outside but with a slip-proof surface. There is a cast concrete bench at one end and a large Philippe Starck polypropylene “Ploof” sofa.

The otherwise harsh edges of the tiled floor and concrete have been softened with bougainvillea, jasmine, nasturtiums, plumbago and hibiscus.

When it came to the front of the house, which the previous owner had made open-plan, Ruth and Andrew encountered a dilemma. They wanted to keep the one big open space because they love entertaining. But the previous owner had installed a bulky lobby, which cut into the room. Ruth and Andrew wanted to take it out, yet needed a place for coats. Also, they wanted to be able to divide the room in case they needed another bedroom.

Having removed the entrance hall, they added a recessed cupboard opposite the front door to provide cupboard space for coats and umbrellas. Another, slim, cupboard houses a curtain to divide the room when required.

A long concrete shelf beside the fireplace serves as a display area for the couple's varied glass collection
A long concrete shelf beside the fireplace serves as a display area for the couple's varied glass collection
Since many original features had been ripped out by the previous owner, Ruth put a long concrete shelf where the fireplace had been, for objects, lights and more of their glass collection. Matthew Williamson’s bold floral motif wallpaper from Habitat dominates that wall.

The furniture is a mix of modern sofas and chairs from Habitat, Philippe Starck and Ron Arad, mixed with inherited furniture. John Lewis rugs warm the wooden flooring, while cushions are from Designer’s Guild and Clarissa Hulse.

Upstairs, Ruth enlarged the landing at the expense of the bathroom to provide an airing cupboard, yet the bathroom, painted white top-to-bottom, still feels spacious, with a white linoleum floor and a soft white Tord Boontje lace curtain. And there is plenty of useful storage while the separate shower and bath panels were made to Ruth’s design, from acrylic.

Wonders of the web

* See Ruth Campbell’s work at
* Habitat:
* The
* Designers Guild:
* Clarissa Hulse:
* John Lewis:
* Architectural Ceramics:
* Planks of Petersfield:

Pictures by Grant Smith

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