The traditional cellars and caverns used by professional vineyards and distilleries bear little resemblance to many of the dank holes beneath Victorian British houses. Basement construction in London in bygone days had more to do with distancing the home from the space beneath it than embracing it, but today water-proofing and underpinning technologies put almost limitless extra living space within easy reach of property owners.

High land prices make basement conversions an economically sound investment. Whilst there has been much publicity given to those displaying millionaire eccentricities, like housing Ferrari collections, the majority extend domestic homes and commercial buildings in far more practical ways. Entertainment, and alcohol, feature in many of them.

Air to Breathe

The expertise of specialist basement construction companies means that light, warmth and ventilation can be crafted to almost any purpose, but traditional wine cellars remain very popular for some obvious reasons. Generally speaking, maturing wines and spirits need a cool stable temperature, moderate humidity and absence of direct sunlight. Vintage wines and whiskies are also valuable, and basements are the most easily secured area of a building. Insurance companies like this too.

Since HVAC systems are an integral part of basement construction plans, setting aside an area with the perfect conditions for storage and another for enjoying them with guests is straightforward when it’s designed in from the outset.

Wines and Spirits

Studies conducted in traditional Italian and Spanish wineries show that even natural cellars without climate control provide a 70% reduction in temperature variation across the year and a 98% reduction in variation in any one day thanks to their thermal inertia. Although there are exceptions (Madeira is deliberately baked), most wines mature optimally between 55 and 58 degrees Fahrenheit.

Wine stored in an above-ground living room or kitchen ages four times faster in comparison, and it quickly loses both its taste and health-promoting constituents like resveratrol, flavonoids and antioxidant tannins. Wine kept in refrigerators can suffer in other ways: too much cold will prevent desirable maturational changes from taking place. Spirits like whisky should not be stored on their side either, because the high alcohol content leaches unpleasant flavours from the corks.

Humidity matters too – it should be kept between 55% and 85%. Too much and corks can dry out and crumble, especially in whiskies and other matured spirits that are stored upright.

Designer Wine Cellars

A basement conversion offers the opportunity to be creative. Glass walls work well in basement spaces, and a grand collection of wines and spirits can readily be displayed within a separated glass-walled space behind which the climate is ideally controlled. Constant access is a simple matter, and the cellar provides a stunning visual focus for an adjoining entertaining space.

Commercial establishments like wine bars and restaurants are particularly fond of this kind of conversion. The thermal inertia of basement spaces can be used to keep running costs low – for example, a heat pump can be used to keep some areas cool and adjoining ones warm. For entertaining spaces, the natural sound insulation provided by cellars is another bonus and can help to secure a licence or planning consent.