Tunnell vision: Dark basement flat given a bright new start

A dark basement flat in the depths of a Victorian villa has been given a bright new start thanks to the efforts of Edinburgh architect Wil Tunnell

Architects can often feel they’re solving the same problem with every new project. In the case of Wil Tunnell, who runs the South Queensferry-based WT Architecture, that’s almost certainly because over the past few years he has become expert in clever conversions, conjuring up transformative light-filled living spaces from Edinburgh’s tricky dark basements.
The latest project by his practice, to upgrade a basement flat in the north of the capital, pushed his imagination that bit further. “The basement flat is in a B-listed building with a lovely leafy outlook,” explains Wil. “Originally, this was a grand Victorian villa, but it was subdivided and a kitchen extension was later added to the basement. The main challenge on this occasion was to design something that wouldn’t impinge in any way on the rest of the building, as the floors above are owned by other people. If one person owned the lot, I’m sure the design would have been different. But we had to be very careful.”
The brief was essentially to bring in more light and to upgrade the whole of the one-bedroom property. “We had planning issues at first, because the buil­ding is listed,” says the architect. “But the design was passed on appeal as it was agreed that the scheme was a good way of upgrading a basement flat, by making it a pleasant place to live by bringing in natural light, and securing the fabric of the building for the future.”
The flat presented its own challenges, too. “The kitchen was in a leaky flat-roofed extension. As well being damp and cold thanks to three outside walls and a single-glazed window, it was also disconnected from the rest of the house. Next to it was a tiny sunken garden area, and this was all the space we had to work with in terms of extending.”
The project has resulted in the addition of a small amount of extra space to the living room and kitchen, improving daylight levels throughout the flat and establishing good connections to the garden courtyard. The new, and very modest extension, taking up around 30% of the sunken garden area, maximises light via its large glazed opening, using overhanging eaves to avoid reflected glare. The zinc roof of the new extension is positioned below the existing kitchen roof level, which limits the bulk of the extension and ensures that it doesn’t overpower the existing structure. The old flat roof was replaced with Sarnafil, with rooflights added to bring in more daylight.

This is just a taster, you can browse the full article with more stunning photography on pages 116-119, issue 92.

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Words Caroline Ednie
Photography Andrew Lee
What A one-bedroom flat in the basement of a B-listed converted Victorian villa
Where Edinburgh
Architect WT Architecture, 0131 331 2813,
Construction time Six months