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iceberg home also iceberg house

noun [countable]

a house which has a very large extension in the basement so that the majority of the living space is underground

'Iceberg homes make for irate neighbours in London … When Canadian businessman David Graham decided to expand his house in a high-end London neighbourhood, he didn't want to build up or out. He planned to dig down. Way down.'

Globe and Mail 27th May 2013

According to the traditional maxim, 'An Englishman's home is his castle', but what if that castle were only partially visible from the road? Frustrated by restrictions on what they're allowed to do with their properties at ground level, it seems that wealthy homeowners are increasingly turning to subterranean solutions. The result is the creation of swanky, spacious, partially below-ground residences which are now being dubbed iceberg homes.

iceberg homes are houses with big, hidden basements … often containing luxury add-ons such as swimming pools, spas, gyms, bowling alleys and cinemas

Living space in densely populated Britain has always been at a premium, and nowhere more so than in London. Living in the capital is typically the preserve of the wealthy, but even the richest among us can't buy space that simply isn't there. And even if there is room to extend out a bit, or possibly up, there may be a whole heap of planning restrictions preventing the creation of a dream home. The logical solution increasingly being adopted by those with plenty of financial resources is therefore to go down into the depths and build an iceberg home, in doing so grabbing a comparatively cavernous space which isn't subject to the same aesthetic restrictions.

Iceberg homes are houses with big, hidden basements that may be significantly larger than the house that appears on the surface. These basements can be as many as four storeys deep – huge subterranean bunkers often containing luxury add-ons such as swimming pools, spas, gyms, bowling alleys and cinemas. Predictably they are favoured by wealthy celebrities, and the media have been quick to highlight the hypocrisy of individuals who've created such spaces for themselves, only to subsequently object to the similar plans of others.

But it's not just glitzy one-upmanship which is stirring up the debate about iceberg homes. The work involved in their construction can take up to two years, bringing massive disruption to surrounding neighbourhoods and turning them into long-term building sites. Some experts also claim that these constructions increase the risk of flooding. It's for this reason that councils for districts such as Kensington and Chelsea in London have finally decided to crack down on the luxury building trend, though there's evidence to suggest that iceberg homes are becoming increasingly popular outside of the capital, both in the surrounding countryside and in other sought-after locations in the UK.

Background – iceberg home

The expression iceberg home exploits the metaphor of an iceberg as something which is much larger below ground than its visible appearance at the surface. Use of the expression seems to have sparked a degree of productivity for iceberg as a modifier, with evidence of iceberg basement/architecture, etc.

The word iceberg dates back to the late 18th century and is a partial loan-translation of the Dutch ijsberg, meaning 'ice mountain'. Its first metaphoric use is relatively recent however, with the tip of the iceberg (=a difficult situation showing that a much more serious problem exists) not recorded until the early 1960s. The word ice is, by contrast, a much more established metaphor, with expressions such as break the ice (=do or say something to relieve tension in a social situation) dating as far back as the 16th century.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 3rd June 2014.

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