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Inside Four Subterranean Iceberg Homes Across the Bay Area

What can’t go up must go down.

SLIDESHOW

Palo Alto

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Palo Alto

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Berkeley Hills

Photo: Jacob Elliott

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Berkeley Hills

Photo: Jacob Elliott

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San Francisco

Photo: Courtesy of JMJStudios

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San Francisco

Photo: Courtesy of JMJStudios

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Sausalito

Photo: Courtesy of Sogno Design Group

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Sausalito

Photo: Courtesy of Sogno Design Group

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Sausalito

Photo: Courtesy of Sogno Design Group

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Editor's note: Read more about the iceberg home trend here. And here's a FAQ about building them. 

Palo Alto: Fitting In with the Neighbors
Aboveground: 4,423 square feet
Belowground: 1,600 square feet
The face this house presents to the street is that of a spruced-up two-story Craftsman, similar in size and style to its neighbors. In reality, the brand-new home in Old Palo Alto boasts 4,423 square feet, 1,600 of it hidden on a third underground level. The subterranean space features wide-plank hardwood floors that match the rest of the house, nine-foot ceilings throughout, and three bedrooms. There’s also a bar space and a dramatic wine-storage cabinet lined with color-changing LEDs. The rear opens up to a large patio that brings in copious natural light. Developer and real estate agent Gloria Young of Golden Gate Sotheby’s International Realty says that one of the most common complaints about aboveground homes during the permitting and review process is that they have “too much bulk.” Designing in the iceberg style, she says, helps negate that issue.

Berkeley Hills: From Crawling to Walking
Aboveground: 4,314 square feet
Belowground: 1,200 square feet
This 4,314-square-foot hillside home had a small crawl space that the homeowners pushed back and enlarged to create a belowground living area that includes a media room, a gym, and a powder room. “The trick with these basements is, how do you make it feel like you’re not underground?” says principal architect Kathryn Rogers of Sogno Design Group, who executed the iceberg addition. Her solution was eight-foot ceilings and a sunken courtyard to bring in plenty of daylight. But Rogers emphasizes that building down isn’t without its challenges: The steep slope of the hillside site required additional engineering during the dig-out to ensure that the whole thing wouldn’t collapse.

San Francisco: Castle in the Ground
Aboveground: 11,000 square feet
Belowground: 4,000 square feet
This 11,000-square-foot speculative home sold for a record $40 million last year and includes a two-story, 4,000-square-foot basement (the home has a total of five levels). The very bottom level houses a three-car garage, while the second subterranean story features a movie theater, a gym, and a guest bedroom suite. Reachable by an elevator or stairs, both underground spaces have 10-foot ceilings. Maurice Lombardo of Taylor Lombardo Architects says that building them required underpinning the home to the property next door. Digging out the rear yard ensured that the basement would have ample daylight. “Once you’re down there, you’d never think it was a basement,” he says.

Sausalito: Down by the Bay
Aboveground: 2,500 square feet
Belowground: 750 square feet
Architect Julie Johnson designed a 750-square-foot basement addition for a 2,500-square-foot Sausalito house set on a small lot with water views. Given the city’s strict limits about adding to the aboveground portions of homes, her clients decided they’d take advantage of looser restrictions for adding square footage underground, excavating below to add a living space with nine-foot ceilings. “We basically carved into the hillside,” Johnson says. “You have to get creative and use the code to your advantage.” The addition includes a theater room with a projection-screen TV, an office, a large bedroom, and a full bathroom. An open stairwell allows for upstairs light to reach the basement.

 

Originally published in the April issue of San Francisco 

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