The Guardian, 2013, June 22th

Dig For Victory

By Olivia Gordon, photographs by Lee Garland

Carving out a basement transforms an ordinary 1920s semi into something special.

This pebble-dashed suburban end-of-terrace in west London looks ordinary enough at a glance. Inside, however, it’s been hollowed out, had its ceilings lowered, walls stripped out, and a basement created where there was none – and it’s now a thoroughly modern, architectural family home.

For the owner, architect Sophie Nguyen, the first step was digging out a basement, easier in London houses, she says, because of the softer clay soil. Part of the original front garden was removed to allow light to pour into the basement room, which is a bookcase-lined work space with decked courtyards front and back. Access to the front door is now via a metal “bridge”. The house appears to float above the ground, especially when lit up at night – hence its name, Hover House.

The existing ground floor walls were knocked down to create an open-plan hall-kitchen-dining-living space – and the floor was dropped by 20cm into the basement to make the space taller. Semi-transparent glass flooring allows even more light into the basement below, and gives the illusion of a double-height space. The original garage and a triangular slice of the basement have been turned into a two-bedroom flat, sharing the decking, and rented out.

The work cost around £350,000 and took 10 months, while the couple and their teenage daughters were living in the house. “It was insane,” Nguyen laughs. The house is not complete: the budget, and family life, have not allowed for renovation of the first floor and loft conversion, where there are three bedrooms, a study and two bathrooms. The back garden, too, is still on the to-do list. “I’m not allowed to do any more,” she says “The children say, ‘Mum, can we stop?’ ”

This is Nguyen’s work space, and where family and friends gather for home cinema nights – films are projected on to the wall. It’s also a guest bedroom thanks to the red Lunar sofabed by James Irvine for B+B Italia ( has similar designs) – the colour matches the dramatic red staircase. A tiny loo is hidden behind a painted white timber door. The courtyard garden is flush with the floor, which makes the basement feel more spacious; the teak decking was salvaged from a skip, sanded and oiled – it needs no maintenance and ages well. “In summer we leave the door open,” Nguyen says. Shelving is Bestå from Ikea ( and metal Vitsoe shelves (

Ground floor
The floor of this open-plan kitchen was dropped by 20cm to make the space taller. The sunshine-yellow kitchen, almost 2D in effect, is MDF painted with lacquer gloss; cupboards conceal the dishwasher, oven and bins. The glass lights above the dining table are from a secondhand shop in France. The dining table is made from four long single planks – it was found on a pavement and was originally a school dining table. The Daw dining chairs are by Eames, bought secondhand. The paper light is by Japanese designer Isamu Noguchi, and the rattan Leran pendant is from Ikea. The red wool sofa is by Patricia Urquiola for B+B Italia (from, and the extendable round 1950s wooden living room table is from a Paris flea market.