Victorian properties, primarily built during Queen Victoria’s reign from 1837 to 1901, make up a significant portion of the UK’s housing stock. These homes span many cities and towns throughout the country. From large Victorian villas to tiny terraced houses, these beautiful properties are popular with modern homeowners as they are often blessed with an abundance of period features: high ceilings, ornate cornicing, cellars, and Victorian basements.
For those lucky enough to own a property with a cellar or basement, it offers a brilliant opportunity to extend down — rather than up or out. And, although the costs of tanking a cellar and making sure a Victorian basement is watertight can be high, the benefits far outweigh the costs.
The different uses that a converted Victorian basement or cellar can offer are wide and varied. From home bars to cinema rooms; man caves to yoga studios. If you’re lucky enough to have the space, there are so many cool ideas to consider.
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What Were Victorian Basements and Cellars Used For Originally?
When the houses were initially built, the basements and cellars were used for storage.
Wood, coal and other fuels were stored for use over the winter months. And, due to the inherently cool nature of Victorian basements and cellars, they were perfect for preserving food — particularly fruits and vegetables — in the warmer months. Some houses even had purpose-built ‘root cellars’, which were specifically for storing root vegetables.
When Did Builders Stop Putting Basements and Cellars in Houses?
It’s a relatively recent occurrence. Builders stopped putting cellars and basements in new homes in the 1960s or thereabouts. This was due to a number of reasons:
- Electricity in houses became more commonplace, so the need for underground food storage became less. Homeowners began to use refrigerators instead. Plus the advent of gas and oil heating meant less need to stockpile wood and coal.
- Underground infrastructure — such as water pipes and sewers — were already in place and would have been expensive to move.
- Plus, many homes in the UK are sited above a high-water table, which brings a risk of flooding, damp and standing water.
- Concrete foundations soared in popularity. It was much cheaper than digging deep foundations for basements and cellars, so after a time the trend simply faded out.
Do You Need Planning Permission to Convert a Cellar?
In many cases, you won’t need to seek planning permission if you’re planning a Victorian basement renovation or cellar conversion. Unless the usage is significantly altered or you plan to change the external appearance of the property. Or as long as it is not a separate unit or the building is listed.
That said, it is always advisable to seek guidance from your local planning department, as planning permission may be required under the Town and Country Planning Acts and from Environmental Health.
Converting an existing cellar to a living space generally only involves a ‘change of use’ and does not require planning permission. However, a Building Regulations application is required for converting an existing basement to habitable use, excavating a new basement or extending an existing basement.
How Much Does it Cost To Convert a Cellar?
This depends on several factors, not least what you plan to do with your Victorian basement! There are so many cool uses, from a basement kitchen to a games room. Ultimately, the end-use and type of finish will dictate the final cost of converting a cellar.
We asked the team at ‘Simply Basement’ for a rough idea. Lewis Edwards advises:
‘As each basement conversion is unique, it can be hard to provide an average cost. However, a typical build is around 60m2, digging under the existing property, and this adds enough space for a bedroom, bathroom, and living space, typically accompanied by a natural lighting well to ensure a bright space.
For the dig-out and waterproof tanking of a space such as this, the costs are around £165k + VAT.
The fit-out costs, including the fitting of the bathroom, internal walls, flooring, lighting, and plumbing etc would be around £20k + VAT, depending on the style and level of finish required.’
Cool Conversion Ideas For Victorian Basements and Cellars
Gone are the days of using a basement to store fuel or food. If you’re fortunate enough to have one of these valuable extra spaces underneath your home, these days, there are so many cool conversion ideas.
Here are a few of our favourites:
1. Music Room
Add soundproofing for the perfect space to practice all your musical instruments. The perfect space to jam to your heart’s content; without disturbing the neighbours — or the rest of your family!
2. Art Studio
Ensure you include natural lighting, storage for supplies, and ample workspace for creating.
3. Home Cinema
Add a big screen, surround sound, and comfortable seating for a stellar movie night experience.
4. Gaming Room
Kit out the space with neon, gaming chairs, and screens for a totally immersive gaming experience.
5. Indoor Garden
Use the art of hydroponics and the nutrient film technique to grow fresh fruit, salad, and vegetables all year round.
6. Wine Cellar
Install a temperature-controlled room with racks for your red wine collection. Plus, wine fridges for white wines.
7. Swimming Pool
Install an ‘Endless Pool’ in your Victorian basement or cellar. These clever pools offer limitless swimming — no need to turn as you swim against a current. The perfect way to keep fit!
8. Craft Room
A basement or Victorian cellar offers the perfect, dedicated space for sewing, knitting, scrapbooking, etc.
Create a space just for the kids with colorful decor, storage for toys, and a reading nook. You could even install a climbing wall similar to the one pictured.
10. Guest Suite
Add a bedroom and a small bathroom to accommodate overnight guests.
Kit the space out for woodworking, metalworking, or other DIY pursuits. Install proper storage to stash your tools neatly with racking and workbenches against the walls.
12. Home Gym
Equip your basement conversion with weights, cardio machines, and floor mats for yoga or pilates.
13. Games Room
Why not treat yourself to a full-size snooker or pool table? Billiards, ping pong, foosball, and darts are also great additions.
14. Photography Studio
Fill the space with scoops, Colorama backdrops, soft-box lighting, and props for photoshoots. Or create your very own darkroom for old-school film photography development.
15. Yoga Studio
Create a zen-like space to practice yoga or pilates.
16. Home Office
Design a quiet, dedicated workspace with built-in shelving and good lighting.
17. Dance Studio
Include mirrored walls, a barre, and a sound system for dance practice.
Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, a library ladder, and cozy seating can transform the space.
19. Recording Studio
Add soundproofing and create a space for all your audio production equipment.
20. Home Bar/ Pub
A stylish bar, neon lighting, comfy seating areas, and perhaps even a small dance floor for parties.
Victorian basements and cellars are the perfect place to create a home sauna. Insulate and panel the walls, and install a vapor barrier and bench seat for the perfect chill-out zone.
Caro Davies is a former art-director turned writer and content-creator, and editor behind UK lifestyle blog The Listed Home. She writes about home-related topics, from interiors and DIY to food and craft. The Listed Home has been featured in various publications, including Ideal Home, Grazia, and Homes & Antiques magazines.