Why you should consider an upside-down house

While upside-down house design is common in Scandinavia and Australia, in the UK it’s mostly seen in coastal properties or homes designed to make the most of a great view.

This architectural choice, also known as reverse living or inverted house design, generally means bedrooms on the ground floor with living accommodation above.

We examine:

  • The main reasons for building an upside-down house
  • Their pros and cons
  • Examples of seven fantastic upside-down houses

Dive in to find out more!

Why build an upside-down house?

The main reasons for creating an upside-down house are usually to get the best from a wonderful view or to solve specific problems with a plot. Such challenges could include a steep slope to one side of the house, restricted floor space, or another physical feature blocking light on the lower floor. An upside-down internal layout can enable homeowners to turn a site’s disadvantages into opportunities for an innovative, unique design, according to Self-Build.co.uk.

With very constrained spaces, often the only option is to build upwards, perhaps over three levels, with living space sandwiched between two floors of bedrooms. This can solve the problem of a very dark lower floor, offering a lighter environment on the upper floors along with increased privacy if there is a nearby road, and less noise.

Putting the social rooms of the house on the first floor also means that everyone can enjoy views that may take in hills, the sea, or even a cityscape.

Front House is a unique upside-down, timber-frame self-build house built in St Andrews. Designed with views in mind, it was carefully orientated to get the best from the south-facing light to the front, and a bright, open living space was achieved. It’s dug into a sloping site, giving privacy to the ground floor bedrooms, with an open plan layout upstairs.

Natural light and warmer air rising from the ground level have led to minimal heating and lighting costs. The house has high levels of insulation and uses air-to-air heat pumps. The project involved self-build and timber frame specialists Fleming Homes.

The pros of upside-down houses:

  • A house can be designed to enjoy the best possible views by using expanses of glazing and strategically placed balconies.
  • They can provide maximum natural light, creating a welcoming, sociable environment in the rooms at the heart of a home – the kitchen, lounge, and dining room.
  • Upside-down houses can create a wow factor through imaginative designs such as double or triple-height atriums and full-height glazing.
  • Creative use of vaulted loft spaces can give greater height, light, and dramatic impact to the open plan layout.

The downsides of upside-down houses:

  • Make sure the views warrant the building work entailed before you start: carefully consider the costs of moving pipework to install kitchens and bathrooms on the upper floors.
  • The inconvenience of carrying groceries upstairs to your kitchen.
  • If you want to future-proof your house to cater to increasing mobility needs in later life, you may want to consider installing a lift, or a dumb waiter.
  • Upside-down houses often have no access to the garden from the social living areas.
  • Security – open bedroom windows at night might be a concern, depending on the location of the house.
  • Privacy issues with bedrooms on the lower floor.

Here are six amazing examples of innovative upside-down houses.

Beechwood, Salcombe, Devon.

Designed by architects Van Ellen + Sheryn, the brief for this replacement house was for it to sit comfortably in its setting in a steeply wooded area of coastline, get the best of the views over Salcombe estuary and connect to the garden. To meet these requirements, large, glazed expanses were created to the south side of the house which can be opened to access the garden, the perfect place for entertaining friends and family. The living area and kitchen are on the first floor along with a balcony, and the bedrooms are below.

Full-height glazing at both ends of the entrance hall offers visitors sea views as they enter the house, and a glass roof over the staircase allows natural light into the hall. Crittal glass dividing screens separate the large open-plan room at the entry level. The house is mainly clad in timber, with white render, stone, and red Corten steel to add colour.

An upside-down house at Welwyn.

This former two-up, two-down cottage in Hertfordshire was bought as a renovation project. It had been extended but had fallen into disrepair. It’s a unique site with several challenges – it backs onto a road and has a drop to a river below. Most of the garden is located on the other side of the river and accessed via a bridge.

The setting led to the upside-down approach adopted by Model Projects. The first floor has an open-plan layout, with a kitchen, living, and dining area. A terrace wraps around the first floor, allowing the living space to extend outside with a seating area.

On the lower level, bedrooms open to river views and the garden, while the bathrooms and ensuites are placed on the roadside against the retaining wall. The scheme involved a new garage with a car lift to allow extra parking. To add light to both levels, a large rectangular roof light was fitted over the staircase.

Dinas Powys, south Wales.

This purpose-designed house was created adjacent to the client’s existing cottage. The narrow curtilage of the plot created space challenges for Loyn+Co architects, as did the proximity of the existing cottage. The new contemporary building, designed with sustainability at the forefront and to meet the clients’ `lifetime home’ brief, was built on an under-used area of the site.

The upside-down house design includes a platform lift, a covered entrance and parking, and flush thresholds. It involves a rooftop garden with great views, double-height space inside with a top-lit area giving light at both levels. It’s built from a highly insulating material, has a timber frame construction, green roofs, solar shading, reflective glazing, and an air source heat pump that provides heating and hot water.

The house achieves an EPC `B’ rating, making it cost-effective to run. It covers 320m2 and enjoys views over fields, towns, and the Bristol Channel towards Somerset. It was shortlisted for the RSAW Welsh Architecture award 2015.

Periscope House, Norfolk.

This design for an environmentally friendly, affordable family home won planning permission through Paragraph 55 (National Planning Policy Framework), which is relevant for rural areas where only buildings of exceptional design will be approved.

It was built on gently sloping land in rural Norfolk. Architects Studio Bark created a unique upside-down design involving two timber-clad periscope balconies which give views of the nearby valley and River Tud. They also offer fixed passive solar shading, angled to respond to summer and winter sun angles.

The house includes a roof light that can be opened, a passive heating and cooling system, high ceilings, and an open courtyard. In very cold weather, it is heated with a log gasification boiler using firewood. All the site spoil was reused in the landscaping plan, reducing the impact on landfill sites and transport footprint. The Western red cedar cladding was sourced from local woodlands. Periscope House was featured on Grand Designs in 2014 and cost £249,000 to build.

This upside-down house in London was designed by Pitman Tozer Architects to create light-filled living space on the upper floors by relocating the bedrooms to the lower floor. The house retains an existing period façade and replaces a derelict workshop and one-bedroom flat, demolished to build a new contemporary house.

The kitchen-dining room is connected to the upstairs living room by a glass balustraded open staircase, and the living spaces open to a rear roof terrace. There are two bedrooms and bathrooms, a utility room, and dressing rooms on the lower floor. Lots of glazing between all the levels provides views from front to back and creates a spacious feeling. The loft space was opened up to create a sense of height and a rear brick wall was replaced with glazing overlooking the decked roof terrace.

Designed to take in views towards Edinburgh and the Forth Rail Bridge over the Firth of Forth, this stunning four-bedroom detached house covers 235m2. On the upper floor, there is a large kitchen and family space, including a lounge and dining area. All rooms on this floor have access to a large south-facing balcony, the perfect place to entertain friends and family and take in the views.

On the lower level, there are three en-suite bedrooms and a master bedroom. There is a separate garage with an apartment above, which also enjoys views over the Firth of Forth. The extensive use of glass maximises the views and the amount of sunlight entering the house, creating a bright, contemporary interior. A glass floor in the living area and a timber and glass floating staircase add to the feeling of light in this house designed by Andrew Black Design.

Do you live in an upside-down house?

If so, do you think this is a good way of living?

What is the main advantage of an upside-down house?

Please leave your comments in the box below.

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