Do you own a Victorian house and love the idea of Victorian basements? Want to make better use of yours? If you’re thinking of going for a Victorian basement conversion, I’ve pulled together some of my favourite ideas to make the most use of this fantastic space.
I’ve lived in a Victorian house for almost 20 years and love the natural light, the original features and the history that goes alongside owning a home that’s over 125 years old. Whether you live in the UK or the US, the Victorian house can have a sweet place in your heart and many of us love combining modern decorating trends with the old style of Victorian homes.
Today I wanted to look at the Victorian basement, its renovation potential and what can be done with an original Victorian cellar.
Cellars in Victorian houses had many uses and still do today. Mainly they were to store coal and were very cold and damp – not a place you would want to spend much time, that’s for sure. Coming directly off the kitchen, with a set of stone stairs leading to one or several rooms with concrete floors, they provided useful areas for cold storage and coal.
If you have great basement space and are wondering how to convert it, and what you can use it for, I’ve pulled together some ideas from those I’ve seen in neighbours homes around me and the Victorian flat my husband lived in for 20 years before we met.
Our current Victorian home wasn’t built with a cellar! I know.
It irks me every day to see the wonderful spaces of my neighbours houses, but our particular semi-detached was built 5 years prior to the rest of the street, probably as original show homes and the builders didn’t install cellars. Subsequent homes on our street were built by different developers and do have basements. See, the history of our older homes is fascinating!
Victorian Basements: 17 Creative Renovation Ideas You’ll Love
So, if you’re looking for ideas for basements, particularly in Victorian homes, here are a few ideas that you’ll find useful.
Converting basements can be a tricky, costly affair so do your research, get in the experts and do not cut any corners. They are notoriously damp – some in our area flood when the water table rises and my husbands Victorian flat cellars used to flood a lot too – so you’ll need to invest in good basement tanking to prevent this happening.
How you renovate the space will depend on your family’s needs, but keep in mind how future generations may like to use the basement space and how it fits with the rest of the house.
- Craft Room: Do you love to sew, do pottery, create wooden pieces in your spare time? Whatever your creative hobby, you’ll want space to store equipment and carry out your work – a converted Victorian basement is just the space for this.
- Home Gym: So many of us love to work out at home but lack the space. A basement gym is the ideal spot to house your exercise equipment and saves on costly gym memberships.
- Man Cave: Or indeed a woman cave – we don’t discriminate here. Basically, this is a hideaway space, a getaway from life to unwind, relax and be you. Whether you want music room, a space for your Book Club, or simply somewhere to invest in your hobbies, a Victorian basement conversion can be whatever you need it to be.
- Home Office: In recent years many more of us are working from home and we dob’t always have enough space in the rest of the house. If you’re currently working from your dining room table and could convert your cellar, perhaps consider creating an underground office space. You’ll want good lighting, some wifi, perhaps a basement toilet and of course, a coffee machine!
- Wine Cellars: If you love collecting wine, there’s not better place to store it than in your converted cellar. You’ll want to maintain the right temperature of course so invest in good tanking and insulation solutions.
- Cinema Room: A wonderful 4 storey Victorian detached house around the corner from ours has a fabulous cellar conversion as a cinema room, plus a small laundry room and bathroom too. It’s a great family space and perfect if you have teenagers who want to hang out with their friends.
- Basement Bars: A converted basement in a Victorian home is the ultimate party room and ideal for installing a home bar! I’ve seen this in person, and it looks incredible. The lower ceilings make it very atmospheric and intimate and with the right lighting, bar accessories and soundproofing, you can create a wonderful space for hangouts and celebrations.
- Laundry Room: You’ll need good basement ventilation if you convert your cellar to a laundry room – driers can create a lot of humidity – and once the laundry is clean, remember you’ll have many stairs to climb when the time comes to put it all away.
- Main or secondary Kitchen: It’s going to take considerable planning and some heavy duty renovation to install all the necessary utilities but it is possible to use your converted basement as a kitchen.
- Games Room: Design a gaming lounge where you can enjoy video games, board games, or even snooker and pool. Set up gaming consoles, gaming tables, comfortable seating, and ambient lighting for an immersive gaming experience and the whole family will enjoy the space.
- Library: This one calls for some good damp proofing and humidity control of course, but why not use your converted cellar as a home library. Install some comfortable seating too where you can enjoy your books.
- Home Spa: Fancy setting up a space to indulge your wellbeing? The basement could be just the area you need to house your foot spa, massage table, or even a sauna.
- Playroom: When the kids are small, the plastic toys seem to multiply overnight. And they always want a place to paint, craft, dress up and play trains. What if they had their own dedicated playroom, so you could keep the sitting room tidy all the time.
- Art Studio: If you’re an artist or creative, having your own dedicated art space is everything you need to pursue your hobby or your business. Just remember to maximise the natural light if you can.
- Meditation or Yoga Studio: Imagine a quiet, serene space where you could meditate and practice yoga to your heart’s content? That’s exactly what you can create in your own Victorian basement.
- Storage and Organization: Use the basement as a dedicated storage area to keep your belongings organized. Install shelves, cabinets, and storage systems to optimize space and declutter other areas of your home.
- Guest Suite: Convert the basement into a self-contained guest suite with a bedroom, bathroom, and a small sitting area. Provide comfort and privacy for visiting family and friends.
Fireplaces in Victorian basements
Many cellars in Victorian houses have a basement hearth so it’s totally possible to install a suitable fireplace. It will depend on the type of room you’d like to create as to whether you want or need one. Remember to get in experts if you’re not sure what you’re doing – you’ll probably need to get the chimney swept, check lintels and flues and decide what type of fire you’re going to install.
You may think that carpet for basements isn’t a great idea and most people do opt for wood or laminate flooring in a converted Victorian basement. However, if you want a softer, warmer feeling underfoot it is possible to put carpet into a basement area, just ensure once again that the space can breathe and there’s no risk of damp or flooding.
Choosing the right lighting for basements is essential. Many have low ceilings and few windows so you’ll need plenty of artificial light. You might be able to install spotlights if you have a void between the ground floor and the basement ceiling, otherwise you’ll want plenty of wall lights, uplighters and lamps.
You’d be surprised how dark basements can be transformed into light and bright spaces that can be so very useful.
You might find that your Victorian Basement has old bricked up windows. If that’s the case, definitely investigate whether they can be uncovered and replaced. You’ll probably find that half of the window or the top third at least will be above ground level, so they can filter in some much needed daylight into the room.
There’s a whole stream of thought on the products used in original basement conversions. Many believe that tanking or making them damp-proof is essential, but Victorian houses were meant to breathe. They were designed to be damp free, where the materials were porous and damp was allowed to escape.
In modern times we’ve trapped that damp into the room with the products we’ve used – like cement and certain paints for example. Do your own research. Watch videos like this one to get an expert’s opinion and different perspective.
Brands like Farrow and Ball have historic finishes, and breathable paints suitable for lime plaster so investigate their range before you buy.
As many Victorian basements have several rooms – my husband’s old flat had 4 of varying sizes and were really useful for storage – it’s quite possible you’ll consider turning one of the smaller ones into a downstairs toilet.
When choosing toilets for basements, you’ll want a Saniflo of course and a waste pipe connection. Take all this into account when choosing its location.
Turning your Victorian basement into a basement bar is such a cool and fun thing to do. As I said, it’s possible you have several rooms which you could use for different purposes, but adding a home bar and hangout space to one or two of the is a great way to make your home a social space for family and friends.
What were Victorian basements used for?
Typically Victorian basements were used for storage – one room would have been the coal store. They might also have used them for food storage and larger Victorian homes would have had servants’ quarters in the basement too.
Why did Victorian basements have cellars?
Many Victorian homes were built with basements and these were used to house fuel like coal and wood for the Winter months. In the warmer months, Victorian families used the space to keep foods cool. In larger Victorian homes, some would have been used as servants’ quarters.
What’s the difference between a basement and a cellar?
In the UK the terms basement and cellar have the same meaning. We would use cellar mainly to describe rooms (habitable or not) below ground.
How much does a Victorian cellar conversion cost?
According to Check-a-Trade a basement conversion will cost between £1000-£2000 per square metre. This is always going to depend on how much of the work you can do yourself, how many experts you need to call in, and what kind of space you convert the rooms to.
So, if you plan to convert your Victorian basement but weren’t sure what you wanted, I hope this has given you a few more ideas on how to use the space.
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