The Trophy Basement

Friday, March 30th, 2012

Wealthy home builders around the globe are digging deep, Candace Jackson reports, and building trophy basements:

In Los Angeles, builder Mauricio Oberfeld has buried about a third of his home underground: He built a contemporary 9,000-square-foot house for his family with a 3,000-square-foot basement. Glass stairwells lead to a lower level with an ornately tiled spa, large office, wine room and movie theater.

“What you see from the street looks pretty low-key,” Mr. Oberfeld says of the home, completed in 2010. “I don’t like to be ostentatious and showing the world.”

Low-key is not the first descriptor that leaped to mind.

The real reasons for the trend are largely economic  —  and regulatory:

In central London’s prime neighborhoods, high density, strict building codes and skyrocketing real-estate prices — up 43% since March 2009, according to real-estate firm Knight Frank — are resulting in some of the most elaborate subterranean living spaces in the world.


Southern California has become another hot spot for digging down. Rare until relatively recently, as land in the area is relatively plentiful, underground building activity grew in earnest after a 2008 Los Angeles ordinance limited the percentage of a lot a home could consume. “The relief valve to that was that if somebody put [square footage] underground and no one could see it,” it was allowable, says Los Angeles city planner Erick Lopez. In most city neighborhoods, the aboveground square footage of newly built homes or expansions typically can’t exceed 25% to 50% of the lot size, depending on neighborhood and topography. (Beverly Hills and other cities have a similar law on the books.)

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