INDUSTRY INSIGHTS | Q&A with Architects, The Basement Design Studio
Basements provide an exciting opportunity to add more space to homes, but they must be carefully thought out to ensure the layout is efficient, and that natural lighting has been considered. Knowles have worked on many projects with Mike Wiseman from the Basement Design Studio, so we wanted to speak to Mike to understand how his practice works and what clients should consider when planning a basement.
Tell us a bit about you and the practice?
The Basement Design Studio was established in 2010, along with Paul Schaaf and as the name suggests, we primarily design basements! My background was always in private practice architecture having spent most of my younger years (1980 onwards) at one of the country’s oldest established practices, founded in 1856 and based in Windsor. The recession of 1990 and reduction to a 3-day week (yes, that really did happen in the old days) prompted me to set up my own practice. A chance meeting on a golf course in 1995 with Robin Knowles then steered the rest of my career to where we are now. Robin was then just setting up The London Basement Company and somehow, I ended up being the ‘design’ part of what was undoubtedly the very start of the ‘design and build’ basement revolution. I think it’s fair to say we both had to learn fast and arguably went on to develop many of the construction techniques and waterproofing details now considered ‘normal’ in the basement industry.
How do you first approach schemes that may be limited for space?
Basements are not always the huge, multi-level ‘icebergs’ that the press seems to love. In fact, the very early basements were driven by the desire to simply gain some extra space from unused cellars. Use of the space is therefore important and, given the cost of basements, I will always try and get the additional space that a client wants, in the minimum area we can. Remember, it’s not just the space gained at basement level, but also how that frees up the other areas in the house. As an example, some of the simplest basements, containing just a kid’s playroom and utility area, can mean the clients kitchen is no longer full of laundry and the living room no longer full of kid’s toys…suddenly, they can live a normal, civilised life, have guests round to dinner again and sit in comfort.
What is your favourite trick to maximise natural lighting for basements?
One of the most common responses I hear when people see examples of basement projects is ‘it doesn’t look like a basement!’. We would always try and make the basement feel like it is part of the original house and that the space is every bit as good as the above ground rooms. That is largely due to being able to introduce the feeling of natural light and, just as importantly, natural ventilation into the basement. Clearly, a basement is never going to have the ‘view’ that an above ground room can have but just the introduction of a well-designed light well and properly proportioned window can have a massive impact on the feel within a room. The amount of light that even a small lightwell can provide never ceases to amaze.
What has been your favourite project to work with Knowles on?
Knowles have undertaken some quite staggering projects over the last few years, some of which I think I’m glad NOT to have been involved in, sleepless nights et al. We do currently have a couple of nice projects together, both on Listed properties funnily enough; one 2,800 sq ft project under a house in St John’s Wood, the other a 2,250 sq ft basement under the garden of a house in the Buckinghamshire countryside. My favourite?… That has to be the secret underground garage, fully air-conditioned for 70 cars in a private collection!
What can clients expect from the Basement Design Studio?
Since 1996, we have probably designed and submitted over 2000 planning applications across most of the London Boroughs, so there isn’t much we haven’t seen. We don’t profess to design the largest, the wildest, or the most original basements in the world, but we do like to think we design sensible, practical, and usable basements for all our clients.