Interiors: Going underground PDF Print E-mail

Times Article - Instead of moving, one couple decided to scoop out the basement under their Victorian house to create a modern living space that really works, finds Helen Chislett

Going UndergroundThe beauty of staying in a house for longer than just a few years is that it can evolve with you. Simon and Jenny de Haan bought their handsome south London villa in the late 1980s, and they have renovated it from top to bottom. Yet it is only in the past two years that the house has taken on a different phase of its life, thanks to the basement space that the de Haans have created out of nothing.

“We always knew that we wanted a sophisticated sitting room on the ground floor, but while our son Piers was growing up, it became more of a dumping ground for family junk,” says Simon. “So, at the back of my mind was the idea to dig out below and create an extra floor — previously there was just a tiny half-cellar under the stairs.”

Most people might think twice before taking on the kind of structural work that scooping out a basement under a Victorian house involves, but Simon was not in the least bit fazed. He has worked in the building trade for years, renovating substantial properties in central London, taking on the complete management of projects, from the electrics to landscaping. However, even he admits that creating a whole subterranean floor is not for the faint-hearted. “The builders arrived with a JCB and began tunnelling under the windows, underpinning the house with steel girders as they went. We filled 100 skips with rubbish,” he says.

The project took almost seven months to complete and ended up setting the de Haans back about £100,000 — but as Jenny says: “It was absolutely worth it; it’s wonderful to have all the extra space.”

When it came to decorating, it was the classic but contemporary furniture from Linley that inspired them. “We like comfort and light yet strong lines. Bold colours are also important, because we want the house to have a dynamic atmosphere,” says Jenny.

Paintings by the French artist Magis have provided much of the inspiration for Jenny’s colour schemes, such as the blues and violets in the sitting room. The de Haans own an apartment in the south of France and have tried to translate that Mediterranean feel to their London house, although they are aware that colours that look fantastic in Provence don’t always work well in the cold northern light.

Now the de Haans have twice the space they previously enjoyed: not only do they have a whole new floor, but since Piers is now a teenager, he never comes out of his bedroom, so they have reclaimed the living space, too.