Dou­ble down on a base­ment

Don’t move, im­prove: dig deeper into your land (not your pock­ets) to max­imise your liv­ing space more af­ford­ably, says Emily Brooks

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Front Page -

Base­ments of­fer big chal­lenges to an in­te­rior de­signer: long, low spa­ces that are short on nat­u­ral light are tricky to make wel­com­ing. From mak­ing the most of avail­able day­light to trick­ing the eye into mak­ing a room seem taller, wider or brighter than it re­ally is, de­sign­ers’ tac­tics are of­ten ap­pli­ca­ble to any home­owner with a dif­fi­cult space they want to make feel more homely.

“The days of the five-storey base­ment are gone,” says James Munro, the ar­chi­tec­tural di­rec­tor at Granit. “There are too many con­cerns by plan­ners about what it does to the wa­ter ta­ble and the long-term ef­fect on neigh­bour­ing build­ings.”

This means a re­turn to more sen­si­ble uses of such spa­ces: bye-bye bowl­ing al­leys, hair sa­lons and panic rooms, hello kitchen-din­ers and play­rooms.

It gen­er­ally costs around £300 per sq ft to ex­ca­vate a base­ment space. Home­own­ers in pricier ar­eas are some­times will­ing to pay twice that for a top-spec de­sign to im­prove their cur­rent house rather than mov­ing – and be­cause they know they’ll even­tu­ally re­coup their costs. “Stamp duty is a mas­sive fac­tor,” Munro says. “It’s crip­pling on a £2mil­lion house, so peo­ple think, ‘why not in­vest it in my own prop­erty?’”

The em­pha­sis now is on qual­ity of space, not quan­tity, and the cre­ation of rooms that are just as open and at­trac­tive as the up­stairs. This is achieved by ex­ca­vat­ing slightly deeper. “The real key is ceil­ing height,” says Nicky Do­bree, an in­te­rior de­signer. “An ex­tra 50cm [20in] will make a world of dif­fer­ence to how you feel in a base­ment.”

It’s also about sac­ri­fic­ing square footage on the ground floor by cre­at­ing large voids – in­ter­nal light wells – that cre­ate dou­ble-height ar­eas. Granit did this with an Ed­war­dian prop­erty in Clapham to great ef­fect, plac­ing a huge roof light over the void on the ground floor, so day­light pours down into the new kitchen-diner.

Nat­u­ral light also comes in from a dou­ble storey of steel-framed glaz­ing, with doors lead­ing out and up to the gar­den. Hav­ing this di­rect con­nec­tion with what’s out­doors is an­other way to make base­ments feel less claus­tro­pho­bic – although it means not be­ing able to have full-width glazed doors on the ground floor.

Robert Dye Ar­chi­tects used a sim­i­lar lay­out for a pro­ject in Bel­size Park. The dou­ble-height area is em­pha­sised by book­shelves run­ning all the way up the wall, with a li­brary lad­der to draw the eye up­wards. This ver­ti­cal em­pha­sis off­sets the cor­ri­dor-like feel­ing of the long, lin­ear base­ments un­der a typ­i­cal Vic­to­rian house.

The house al­ready had a cel­lar, but it was sig­nif­i­cantly en­larged. James Peake, di­rec­tor of Peake Projects, the build­ing firm that un­der­took the con­struc­tion, says that hav­ing an ex­ist­ing cel­lar spurs on home­own­ers to get a full con­ver­sion – but while it can save a lit­tle money on ex­ca­va­tion, the over­all dis­rup­tion tends to be sim­i­lar. Ex­tra soil re­moval, un­der­pin­ning and pump­ing in concrete all cause sig­nif­i­cant up­heaval, mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble to live in the house dur­ing the works.

If an in­ter­nal lightwell isn’t pos­si­ble, ex­ter­nal lightwells are the next best thing – the larger the bet­ter. With no view, opaque glaz­ing can be bet­ter than look­ing at a blank wall, but liv­ing walls have emerged as a nat­u­ral al­ter­na­tive. “A bit of green­ery makes it feel more homely and not so ster­ile,” says Ge­orgina Tur­vey of Peek Ar­chi­tec­ture & De­sign.

Tur­vey says the space avail­able should dic­tate how to de­sign the area. “The lay­out is in­formed by where the light is. Con­cen­trate the liv­ing spa­ces where the lightwells are, and al­ways put an­cil­lary spa­ces such as loos and util­ity rooms in the dark­est ar­eas. A stair­case can pro­vide a re­ally good source of ‘bor­rowed’ light, es­pe­cially if it has a roof light over it. Over­head glaz­ing pro­vides a greater amount of am­bi­ent light than a ver­ti­cal win­dow, so even if it’s com­ing down two storeys, it can still light a space re­ally well.” In­ter­nal doors can be glazed, or

‘Green­ery makes it feel more homely and not so ster­ile’

folded back to open up two base­ment rooms, to al­low light to flow from one end of a long space to an­other.

Ar­chi­tec­tural de­tail­ing can also play a part in mak­ing base­ments feel brighter and more spa­cious. “A great way of bounc­ing light back into a space is to use cof­fered ceil­ings,” says Do­bree.

Our brains use ver­ti­cal win­dows to an­chor us in place, even if they are opaque, with no views; with­out them we may feel dis­ori­en­tated. For a base­ment fea­tur­ing only rooflights, Clare Pas­coe of Pas­coe In­te­ri­ors used art to cre­ate a fo­cus point with sim­i­lar pro­por­tions to a win­dow. “Your eye is drawn to any view, and by in­stalling a large piece of art­work it helps to recre­ate the hor­i­zon­tals and ver­ti­cals that you get with a win­dow. The lay­out of the fur­ni­ture is also quite lin­ear, with so­fas flank­ing the walls, which also draws you in.”

Ar­ti­fi­cial light­ing is very im­por­tant in base­ments, and can bring drama and cosi­ness that make up for lack of day­light. “Lay­ered light­ing can work very ef­fec­tively,” says Danielle Joyce, a se­nior de­signer at de­vel­oper Fin­chat­ton. “For ex­am­ple, re­cessed light­ing, spaced evenly through­out the room, can re­move shad­ows and give a greater feel­ing of space and open­ness; this can be com­ple­mented by ac­cent light­ing for a warmer aes­thetic, with floor lamps and wall light­ing. By us­ing dim­mer switches, you can tone up or down the light­ing ac­cord­ing to the at­mos­phere you’re try­ing to cre­ate.”

Pas­coe also sug­gests frac­tion­ally drop­ping the ceil­ing and hav­ing an LED strip run­ning round the room, which gives an im­pres­sion of day­light flood­ing down the walls. As for colour schemes, it all de­pends on the use of the space.

Day­time rooms such as play­rooms and kitchens are usu­ally white, while cin­e­mas and bil­liard rooms can be dark and cosy co­coons. But ar­ti­fi­cial light­ing in th­ese dark rooms is cru­cial, says Au­drey Car­den, an in­te­rior de­signer at Car­den Cu­ni­etti. “Where we have used a space for a TV room or cin­ema, we have gone for a dark and dra­matic scheme, but with mul­ti­ple sources of light: il­lu­mi­nated shelv­ing, floor lights, LED up­light­ing in cor­nices and we have even used stretch ceil­ing with tiny LEDs that looked like a night sky.”

Base­ments used to be sec­ondary to the rest of the house, but now they’re start­ing to look like some of the most invit­ing places to be.

Bright ideas: a kitchen with lightwell and a liv­ing wall, above, and a dark me­dia room, be­low, at Fin­chat­ton’s Knighton Place pro­ject in Knights­bridge; a 1,200 sq ft, two-bed­room base­ment flat in Is­ling­ton, cover, is £1.3mil­lion with John D Wood

What lies be­neath: the base­ment games room of the White­lands man­sion in Wey­bridge, Sur­rey, above, listed with Knight Frank for £16.95mil­lion; book­shelves cover the wall, with a lad­der to draw the eye up­wards, in a Robert Dye Ar­chi­tects pro­ject in...

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