Beautiful Basements

By Oliver Burns

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November 14, 2017|Super Prime Property

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  • ne of the biggest purchasing factors that influence the ultra high net worth individuals (UHNWI’s) with whom we work is space. For many, it is a must-have luxury. But with a lack of space in London’s highly sought after golden postcodes, this proves to be an on-going issue. The majority of London’s super-prime homes are listed, which imposes strict planning limitations to protect the property, making building either outwards or upwards restrictive. This coupled with heavy SDLT levied on high-end properties makes relocating for additional space an unfavourable option for the cash rich but time poor. The solution that has emerged in the last decade is the once unfashionable basement.

A staggering 3,064 applications were submitted for basement conversions in 2016 alone

Historically viewed as dark or unappealing spaces -which in Georgian and Victorian times were used for the kitchen and servants’ quarters- the basement has enjoyed a renaissance. Offering much coveted space without disrupting the aesthetics of the building, the basement can provide palatial proportions.

Image via Oliver Burns

For our discerning clients, discretion, security and privacy are at the top of their wish list, and this is another factor that makes basements advantageous, explaining why underground conversions have gained popularity with the ultra-wealthy. Insights by The Halifax illustrate that this trend is in no way declining with a staggering 3,064 applications for basement conversions in 2016 alone. Since 2012, applications have risen by 183%, with London boroughs representing the top 16 local authorities.

The Constable designed by Oliver Burns for Amazon Property

There are opportunities to double the property's value as well as resaleable space

However, some of the most affluent areas of the city are clamping down, most notably The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea who became the first local authority to impose limitations on constructing basements. This surge in popularity is not difficult to understand from a commercial standpoint with an estimated build cost of up to £1,000 per square foot at the top end of the market. This offers opportunities to double the property’s value as well as resaleable space.

  • Image via House & Garden
  • For many UHNWI’s, much of the appeal of an underground conversion is the space this creates to showcase their investments of passion. From extensive wine collections to luxury cars, basements offer a space to safely store and display valuables that a conventional two or three storey home simply couldn’t accommodate. Other clients are utilising the space to house home cinemas, gyms, spas and swimming pools; all amenities that negate the necessity to leave the home, a luxury in itself.

Image via Oliver Burns

The majority of projects we work on have a new basement as part of the brief; from installing home cinemas offering an immersive, cinematic experience to bespoke wine cellars and wine rooms that can also be used for entertaining. A recent project required us to design a basement bar for a client, featuring strong 1970’s design references by way of bold retro prints and orange accents. This area was also used to display the owner’s vinyl collection, thereby creating a unique and highly personal space.

  • Image via Oliver Burns
  • Image via Oliver Burns

Our Italian lake house features multiple rooms in the basement, from the bar and games room through to a sauna. In our family residence in a private enclave in Mayfair, we extended the basement to the rear of the property; in turn doubling the size of the space. This made way for seven generously sized rooms including a glamorous private cinema, wine room, gym and adjoining sauna.

Another basement project we are currently working is an 18th century manor house; the banks around this property have been excavated which floods the space with natural light. This has made room for a swimming pool, an inviting bar area, and three guest bedrooms.

Image via Oliver Burns

Although largely proving a popular investment, excavating the space necessary for a basement does not come without its challenges. Many underground extensions are carried out on period homes in an effort to circumvent planning restrictions; the unwelcome side effect being subsidence which period properties are especially susceptible to. Another concern is the risk of flooding due to the volume of ground removed which would otherwise soak up rainfall. Both of these potential issues could affect surrounding neighbours’ properties indirectly whilst also causing inconvenience by way of the dust and noise, which comes with embarking on a project of this scope. This has created some high profile basement disputes, from Robbie Williams and Jimmy Page, to Jon Hunt and his neighbours.  Most recently a grade II listed property at the centre of one of London’s biggest planning controversies was put on the market for £25 million – complete with a giant hole in the garden, where basement work halted in 2008.


Most recently a grade II listed property at the centre of one of London's biggest planning controversies was put on the market for £25 million - complete with a giant hole in the garden

In spite of these challenges, basements will remain popular with the super-prime market. Through increasing saleable as well as liveable space, the commercial benefit of an underground build is clear to see.


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