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Before & After: A Derelict Ambulance Station in East Sussex, Reimagined

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Before & After: A Derelict Ambulance Station in East Sussex, Reimagined

Vojtek Ketz October 19, 2018

Located in the medieval citadel of Rye in East Sussex is St. John Rye, a detached house remodeled from a former ambulance station. The building sits back from the steep cobbles of Conduit Hill, sharing a courtyard with an elegant, listed Georgian building. Its unfamiliar appearance caught the eye of owner Marta Nowicka six years ago. Nowicka, an interior architect, had been visiting the town for 20 years. “I fell in love with the atmosphere, its medieval streets, stone and timber warehouses,” she recalls. She had been living nearby in a cottage on Camber Sands beach, waiting for something “wildly interesting and challenging” to come up in Rye. Sure enough, it did (and now it’s available for rent).

Join us for a look.

The building was a former ambulance station built by the St. John Ambulance Association in the 50s. (The Association was founded in the late 00s in order to teach industrial workers first aid.) The neighboring Georgian building served as their headquarters, whilst the twin-pitched garage was used to station two ambulances.
Above: The building was a former ambulance station built by the St. John Ambulance Association in the 1950s. (The Association was founded in the late 1800s in order to teach industrial workers first aid.) The neighboring Georgian building served as their headquarters, whilst the twin-pitched garage was used to station two ambulances.

“As it was a former ambulance station, the ground floor was very spacious and the roof spaces had quirky attic-like rooms,” explains Nowicka. “It had this perfect spatial juxtaposition, plus it required a total refurbishment as it had not been touched since the 1970s.”

Nowicka purchased the property in 2013, but the project was beset by hurdles from the beginning: She was faced with the stringent planning laws of a conservation area, neighbors objected to her plans, and town planners refused permission to enlarge the footprint of the original building. The project took six years in total and recently won an Architects’ Journal Retrofit Award for 2018.

A side extension that was added to the building in the 70s was rebuilt to form an entrance hall and study on the ground floor and a bedroom and family bathroom on the first floor. The pitched roof visually extends the pitch of the existing building. Local, handmade clay peg tiles, added to clad the walls of the extension, reference the style of surrounding buildings and complement the existing red brick structure.
Above: A side extension that was added to the building in the 1970s was rebuilt to form an entrance hall and study on the ground floor and a bedroom and family bathroom on the first floor. The pitched roof visually extends the pitch of the existing building. Local, handmade clay peg tiles, added to clad the walls of the extension, reference the style of surrounding buildings and complement the existing red brick structure.

Original materials were repurposed throughout wherever possible. “The old existing roof was made water-tight, saving all the original tiles, including the moss that was growing on it,” explains Nowicka. From nearby Condiut Hill, the juxtaposition of weathered red brick and clay with flush, aluminum windows gives the onlooker a sense that something interesting is happening inside.

The garage doors were remade to meet building regulations, but Nowicka kept the originals, stripping them back and using them as wall cladding.
Above: The garage doors were remade to meet building regulations, but Nowicka kept the originals, stripping them back and using them as wall cladding.
Inside, a double-sided wood-burning stove stands on a large concrete plinth in the middle of the space, creating a central heat source and focal point. Medieval dwellings were often arranged around a central hearth, and Nowicka sees this is a nod to the far-reaching history of the area.
Above: Inside, a double-sided wood-burning stove stands on a large concrete plinth in the middle of the space, creating a central heat source and focal point. Medieval dwellings were often arranged around a central hearth, and Nowicka sees this is a nod to the far-reaching history of the area.
 Unfazed by the challenges presented, Nowicka set about reorganizing the floor plan. By removing an unoriginal central wall, Nowicka transformed the ground floor into an 780-square-foot space that is divided into two zones: kitchen and dining on one side of the wood stove, seating on the other. The flooring throughout is wide riven oak floor boards.
Unfazed by the challenges presented, Nowicka set about reorganizing the floor plan. By removing an unoriginal central wall, Nowicka transformed the ground floor into an 780-square-foot space that is divided into two zones: kitchen and dining on one side of the wood stove, seating on the other. The flooring throughout is wide riven oak floor boards.
Textured materials bring warmth to an otherwise minimalistic interior.
Above: Textured materials bring warmth to an otherwise minimalistic interior.

In the kitchen, cabinets were made from sand-blasted greyed timber. The worktops and backsplash are Carrara marble, whilst the brushed stainless-steel kitchen island is intended to reference the medical industry.

Through to the stairway.
Above: Through to the stairway.
 Generous circulation spaces upstairs and down give the building a convivial feel. The space was conceived as a place to come together with friends and family and is available to rent through DOMstayandlive.com, a selection of architecturally-designed holiday lets and long-term rentals curated by Nowicka.
Above: Generous circulation spaces upstairs and down give the building a convivial feel. The space was conceived as a place to come together with friends and family and is available to rent through DOMstayandlive.com, a selection of architecturally-designed holiday lets and long-term rentals curated by Nowicka.
 Oak is used to clad the walls of the double-height stairwell. Robust materials have been used throughout, making the space suitable for large gatherings.
Above: Oak is used to clad the walls of the double-height stairwell. Robust materials have been used throughout, making the space suitable for large gatherings.
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Above: “Any interesting brickwork has also been exposed as a feature,” explains Nowicka. Here, the walls of the hallway mirror the view from the narrow window in the stairwell, connecting the interior to the town outside.

Strong, architectural shapes and white walls are to be found in the bedrooms upstairs, where the interiors continue to reference the building’s medical history. Stainless steel accents appear throughout: there is a nurse’s trolley in the family bathroom, and even a repurposed cadaver bench used as a dressing table in the master bedroom.

Upstairs (with a linen cabinet reminiscent of the building&#8
Above: Upstairs (with a linen cabinet reminiscent of the building’s medical history).
A new dormer window in the main bedroom affords a view over Conduit Hill towards Austin Friar&#8
Above: A new dormer window in the main bedroom affords a view over Conduit Hill towards Austin Friar’s Monastery, home to Alex MacArthur Interiors. (See inside at Welcome to My Monastery: Alex MacArthur’s New Antiques Showroom in Sussex.)
Into a twin bedroom.
Above: Into a twin bedroom.

Above L: The cadaver bench, now a dressing table. Above L: The nurse’s trolley, repurposed as bathroom vanity.

 In the master bedroom, a triangular window slots into the space between the twin gables (seen here from the exterior side elevation).
Above:  In the master bedroom, a triangular window slots into the space between the twin gables (seen here from the exterior side elevation).

Before

Nowicka outside the property as it appeared in . Nowicka added a second story to the 70s extension (seen here on the left).
Above: Nowicka outside the property as it appeared in 2013. Nowicka added a second story to the 1970s extension (seen here on the left).
The strip-lit interior.
Above: The strip-lit interior.
The original garage doors, which opened into the cavernous garage space.
Above: The original garage doors, which opened into the cavernous garage space.
The kitchenette upstairs. Nowicka has retained the unusual shape of the window in what is now the master bedroom.
Above: The kitchenette upstairs. Nowicka has retained the unusual shape of the window in what is now the master bedroom.

See more remodels with slightly sinister histories here:

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