Buy Of The Week: Ramsgate

It started with a single flat in a beautiful crescent, but a Georgian townhouse in Ramsgate was to become an obsession for one couple. Nick Lloyd Jones reports on a remarkable transformation
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The Independent Online

This eight-bedroom, Grade II-listed Georgian townhouse on a clifftop in Ramsgate, Kent, directly overlooks the harbour and beach. It was originally built to be the home of a wealthy shipwright but in the late Eighties was split up into four flats.

The current owners, Jonny and Keeley Dunhill, bought the top-floor one in 1998. Jonny already knew the town well, having holidayed there as a child.

The couple both liked the way the house stood apart from its neighbours in the crescent and was the only one with a front garden.

The Dunhills were living in London at the time and originally bought the Ramsgate flat as an investment, with a view perhaps to using it as a holiday home and renting it out for the rest of the time.

Little did they suspect back then that over the next few years, apart from becoming parents to two children, they would also come into possession of the three other flats contained in the house. "There was no overall game plan," Jonny says, "everything just seemed to happen by accident and slot into place."

First the lower-ground-level flat, then the one on the first floor, came on to the market. The Dunhills bought both and immediately set about renovating the top two flats.

Both of these more or less follow the same layout, with two bedrooms giving off to one side of a central landing and, to the other side, a sitting room with a kitchen and bathroom at the back. The views on offer from both floors are breathtaking, with the harbour to the right and the open sea to the left beyond the bandstand in the crescent.

Jonny and Keeley finally acquired the ground-floor flat in 2002, which meant that they now owned the entire house. By then, they had decided to sell their London home in Clapham and move to Ramsgate full time. Keeley set up an office in the top-floor flat, while Jonny continued commuting back and forth to London before eventually deciding to wind down the business and devote himself to doing up the place.

"It was in a pretty ropy state and nothing had been done to it for 15 years or more," Jonny says. Wherever possible, the couple kept the house's original features intact. "We were aiming for a restoration rather than a refurbishment, and, when we couldn't achieve that, we tried to use materials that blended in well with the building's original character."

They decided to reconvert the two lower levels of the house into a maisonette where they could live as a family, while retaining the two upper-floor levels as self-contained flats that had separate access via the main staircase of the house.

They didn't let these flats out, though, using them instead as spaces to work in, store things and put up friends and family during the holidays. "It was a luxury we couldn't really afford, but it's been lovely having the entire place to ourselves and we've somehow managed to muddle through," Jonny says.

However, the biggest task of all that Jonny and Keeley faced was undoubtedly creating the three-bedroom maisonette on the lower two floors, where they set about completely altering the existing layout.

The old kitchen at the front of the lower-ground level was gutted and replaced with a vast family room where the chimney was opened up and a period fireplace installed. Two of the other rooms on this floor remained bedrooms, another was converted into a laundry room and the front bathroom was thoroughly modernised.

Solid-oak flooring was installed throughout and a local craftsman was hired to restore the ornate plasterwork cornicing around the twin set of bay windows at the front.

A new flight of stairs was connected up to the ground-floor level, where the original floorboards were sanded down and painted. The former kitchen at the front was transferred to the side of the house and the space that was left was converted into a master bedroom where the plasterwork was again restored, the chimney was opened up and a beautifully carved walnut fireplace was installed. The sitting room across the hall was given the same treatment and the bathroom at the back of the bedroom was also refurbished.

It was Keeley who masterminded the decor, blending the house's traditional features with modern comforts such as underfloor heating on the lower-ground level and period radiators elsewhere. Most of the house's original floorboards were restored, as was much of its timber wall panelling. The lighting selected was a combination of chandeliers and hanging lights with more functional recessed down-lighters used in the two top-floor kitchens. The bathrooms were kitted out with comfortably large period porcelain loos, baths and basins.

Jonny and Keeley think that the unique layout of the house will help to attract potential purchasers. "It's so practical and versatile," Jonny says. "The house can either be kept as it is as three self-contained flats - an option that offers great rental potential - or, alternatively, it could quite easily be reconfigured to create a single giant family house."

The Dunhills themselves are now hoping to move to the south-west of France but are planning to continue their love affair with Ramsgate by retaining a pied-à-terre in the town. "We absolutely adore the place," says Jonny. "The people are friendly and down-to-earth, the shops are brilliant and everywhere you look there's great period architecture. You really can't beat it."

Get the spec

What's for sale: Grade II-listed eight-bedroom Georgian townhouse converted into three units close to Ramsgate town centre and overlooking the marina.

Serious kit: restored plasterwork, period fireplaces and radiators, bay windows.

Extras: trains for London Charing Cross and Victoria take about two hours.

How big? 3,074sq ft

Buy it: East Cliff House, 30 Wellington Terrace, Ramsgate Colebrook Sturrock (01843 863 100), www.colebrooksturrock.co.uk) for £650,000.

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