Modern houses rarely have cellars, but up to the last war they were fairly common. Damp, dark and depressing, they’re the obvious places now for central-heating oil tanks. There are about as many rules for converting your cellar to be habitable as there are for the attic, but adequate light, ventilation and height are the most important. If it is to be habitable it must have an area of window equal to one-tenth of the floor area, and half of that window must let in fresh air. You will also need 2.25 m (7ft 6in) headroom; you may be tempted to lower your cellar floor to achieve this, but it is virtually impossible and can be extremely dangerous — even if you keep well away from the supporting walls. It is probably better to open up part of your ground floor down to the basement level.
However, if you’ve enough space, a cellar can provide an excellent soundproof room for your hi-fi. It may even be a good place for your kitchen, though you would certainly have to discuss that with your local authorities. In extreme cases, you could turn it into a completely self-contained flat, though there will be fire regulations to consider, and probably an increase in the rates. If you’re just seeking to use your existing cellar more efficiently, you could clean it up and use it as a workshop or as a wine store.
One of the brightest and most popular ideas is to turn your cellar into a bar area. Space can be maximized by using a spiral staircase, or by using the space under con ventional steps for storing soft drinks (which are usually very bulky), stereo equipment or heating units. Much of the original brick or stone work can be retained to give a pub-like atmosphere. Carrying this décor a step further, you should aim to make your cellar bar as conducive to conversation and fairly active enjoyment as your ‘local’ — where many a gathering in your bar will doubtless begin.
One of the easiest ways to construct the bar is to build it from plain bricks and cover the top with wood or formica — far cheaper than buying a separate unit from a furniture shop. Wine racks can be built into such a unit to use the restricted space behind the bar more efficiently than shelving. You can also get away with using very inexpensive decorating material — such as indestructible office carpeting — in a cellar, making its construction less costly than many people might imagine. All sorts of novel ideas can be used to advantage. Should there be a wall beside the stairs leading down to the cellar, why not put a fish tank into the wall so that the aquarium can be seen from both sides, at the same time saving space?
A cellar bar can be an enjoyable and well-used addition, introducing a completely new dimension to your home, while providing what amounts to an extra room. For example, teenagers can have a party while their parents find a bit of peace and quiet in the comfort of the lounge upstairs.
Just as insulation is the major consideration in your attic, so damp-proofing must be in your cellar, though you are more likely to need the services of an expert here. Air bricks, vertical damp-proof membranes, asphalt floors — there are many possibilities and you will need to explore your own problems thoroughly and discuss the possible solutions with a builder. Even when you feel confident, it is best not to decorate with anything likely to be damaged or to peel should damp recur. Similarly, think of your cellar floor rather like a bathroom floor in terms of dampness and you can’t go wrong. Enlarge any windows and give a lot of attention to your artifical lighting as it’s likely to be more often on than off. You might find mirrors a very useful v. ay of increasing what light you have. Good heating can really make or break a cellar conversion: it should retain heat well, so one of the cheap storage systems should prove to be particularly suitable.
One of the main problems associated with installing kitchens, lavatories or bathrooms in cellars is what to do with waste water. Most cellars are below ground level, so complicated plumbing and waste-disposal facilities relying on electric pumps are likely to be needed. This tends to negate the attractions of turning the cellar into an additional toilet, bathroom or kitchen, no matter how desperate the need for space might be for people with large families.