Upside Down House Design Ideas: 16 Amazing Real-Life Projects

An upside down house layout is the perfect solution for self builders who are either wanting to maximise their plot’s amazing views or building on a tricky site. We take a look at a collection of fantastic real homes with upside down layouts to show what’s possible
Shona Jackson
by Shona Jackson
22nd May 2024

If you’re lucky enough to have a dramatic landscape on the doorstep of your property or building plot, chances are you’ll want to make the most of it. An upside down house layout may therefore be the best architectural choice when it comes to framing your site’s scenic surroundings.

The basis of an upside down house layout is to locate the bedrooms on the ground floor, with the main living areas on the home’s first floor. This allows the most sociable spaces – the kitchen and reception zones – to enjoy panoramic views of rolling hills or a glistening coastline.

An upside down house design can also benefit a self build on a sloping site, where ground floor space may be restricted. It’s likely that you want your living spaces to be bigger than the bedrooms, so this allows you to effectively maximise the plot you’re working with.

From a converted fire station with a tranquil sun terrace, to a charming oak frame annexe that blends into its rural surroundings, here are 16 of the best upside down projects that show the exciting possibilities an upside down house layout could unlock for you.

1. Light-Filled Oak Frame Self Build with an Upside Down House Layout

The desire to downsize from their family home in Surrey prompted Chris and Mary Noon to tackle their first self build – a stunning oak frame project in Dorset, with enviable views of the sea. “We started planning our next move when our two kids moved out about 10 years ago,” says Chris, who was keen to create something bespoke that he and Mary could enjoy in their retirement.

Light-Filled Oak Frame Self Build with an Upside Down House Layout

Photo: Richard Downer

The couple explored various locations before settling on Bridport, Dorset, where they purchased a 1950s prefab bungalow located on a sloping plot with panoramic views. They soon started drawing up plans for a knock-down and rebuild project, engaging Roderick James Architects to help them create the perfect scheme.

Light-Filled Oak Frame Self Build with an Upside Down House Layout

Photo: Richard Downer

After two years and few planning hurdles, the family were finally ready to move into their dream home. The fantastic scheme was brought to life using an oak frame and structural insulated panels structural package from Westwind Oak, with the oak trusses left exposed for additional character. Inside, the upside down house layout means the living spaces are situated on the upper storey, allowing expansive countryside views and a light-filled, open home.

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2. Affordable Timber Self Build Home in Scotland

Dene and Debbie Happell have created this contemporary timber frame home in the Trossachs National Park, which pleased local planners following its sympathetic materials and striking design.

Affordable Timber Self Build Home in Scotland

Photo: Douglas Gibbs

The couple, who have gained ample experience through their own their design and build company Nest , were after somewhere to call their holiday home. Debbie’s parents had purchased a property looking over Loch Venachar and soon suggested that the couple build over a large rundown shed that existed on the site.

Luckily, local planners had been looking to promote modern architecture to attract tourism to the area.

Affordable Timber Self Build Home in Scotland

Photo: Douglas Gibbs

So, what came next was their remarkable new home, completed alongside Cameron Webster Architects and using Fleming Homes’ timber frame shell that arrived on site with insulation already installed. “We chose this build method for speed and price,” says Dene.

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3. Charming 1.5-Storey Upside Down Passivhaus Home

The drive to live in a thermally-efficient property was one of the main driving forces behind Dominic and Shamim Byrne’s search for a new home.

Charming 1.5-Storey Upside Down Passivhaus Home

Photo: Katie Lee

Although, after six months of house hunting, Dominic and Shamim were unable to find a property that ticked the right boxes. “We’d always been drawn to the idea of self building. When a garden plot came up for sale, on the edge of the town where we were looking, it made sense to check it out,” says Dominic.

Charming 1.5-Storey Upside Down Passivhaus Home

Photo: Katie Lee

The couple bought the plot and 9 months later their self build was finished, complete with an upside down house layout. The MBC timber frame structure is clad in a brick skin, with clay pantiles on the roof that harmonise with the local vernacular. The home features solar PV panels and an air source heat pump. The heat pump provides the hot water and powers the underfloor heating on the ground floor. Upstairs, no heating is needed.

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4. Oak and SIPs Barn-Style Upside Down House in Somerset

When their rear garden was deemed suitable for development via the council’s local housing need assessment, Tony and Jo Hogg had a choice to make: sell up, or build on it themselves. The couple chose the latter – attracted by the opportunity to design and construct a barn-style home that would meet their tastes and requirements.

Oak and SIPs Barn-Style Upside Down House in Somerset

Photo: Colin Poole

The brand new, efficient home features an upside down house layout, with the living areas on the top floor. It has been constructed with a mix of oak frame and SIPs, featuring a design that blends the traditional style of oak with a bright, contemporary and open-plan scheme.

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5. Art Deco Bungalow Conversion with an Upside Down House Layout

Set amongst a street of 1930s houses in Brighton, John Wignall’s striking five-bed home makes a stunning statement.

Art Deco Bungalow Conversion with an Upside Down House Layout

Photo: James French

Immediately attracted to the site’s original bungalow, John set about converting the property. Advised by Arch Angels Architects, he opted for a three-storey structure with a flipped interior layout to accommodate the home’s sloping terrain.

Art Deco Bungalow Conversion with an Upside Down House Layout

Photo: James French

An elevated living space was created on the first floor, with full height windows and paved areas to the front and rear to soak up the surroundings.

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6. Contemporary Barn-Style Upside Down Home

Nestled on the outskirts of a Scottish golf course, this plot had the right mix of local amenities and picturesque surroundings for Mark and Marjorie Kingston, who were looking for the perfect place to retire to.

Contemporary Barn-Style Upside Down Home

Photo: Nigel Rigden

With help from Oliver & Robb Architects, they created a fabulous agriculture-inspired design, with an upside down layout that maximises the views from this timber frame property.

Contemporary Barn-Style Upside Down Home

Photo: Nigel Rigden

Two bedrooms and a library occupy the light-filled ground floor. A bespoke staircase connects the upside down house and leads up to an impressive sitting gallery with a vast glazed wall, drawing the rural landscape inside.

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7. Upside Down Self Build on a Sloping Plot

When Murray and Lora Gray stumbled upon a site for sale on the Isle of Skye – the very spot where they’d spent their honeymoon – it seemed too coincidental to pass up.

Upside Down Self Build on a Sloping Plot

Photo: Nigel Rigden

They consulted Alan Dickson of Rural Design Architects to help them plan a home around the plot’s tricky steep incline. He produced drawings for a contemporary upside down house that would work in harmony with the terrain.

Upside Down Self Build on a Sloping Plot

Photo: Nigel Rigden

Spread over three levels, the top storey accommodates a zoned living space with floor-to-ceiling windows and rooflights, offering panoramic sea views.

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8. Light & Bright Fire Station Conversion in Scotland

Mark and Rhonda Brunjes fought off prospective buyers to secure an old fire station, ripe for conversion, in their favourite Scottish holiday town.

As the building was previously single-storey, the couple decided to add an extra floor to accommodate a large living area. Layout-wise, they opted for an upside down house arrangement, as the property’s ground floor was relatively dark and viewless.

Light & Bright Fire Station Conversion in Scotland

Photo: Douglas Gibb

The first floor open-plan space contains the living zone, kitchen and dining area. This is flooded with natural sunlight thanks to a swathe of glazing that spans the entire south-facing wall. Leading off from the social areas, a stylish sun terrace channels the Mediterranean, with idyllic views overlooking the water.

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9. Sensitive Coastal Self Build with an Upside Down Layout

A dramatic location was paramount for John Ritchie when it came to searching for a self build site. When he found his dream spot – a piece of grazing land in Skye surrounded by impressive mountain and coastal vistas – he reached out to local company Dualchas Architects.

Sensitive Coastal Self Build with an Upside Down House Layout

Photo: Alistair Nicholls

Ground stability problems were unearthed during construction and the house had to be tucked into the hillside, inadvertently creating an upside down scheme that draws on an innovative use of glass.

Sensitive Coastal Self Build with an Upside Down House Layout

Photo: Alistair Nicholls

Contemporary details, such as a zinc roof, mixed with traditional elements, give a fresh interpretation to the area’s croft-style houses.

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10. Modular House Accessed by a Bridge

Perched on the edge of a sea loch, this eye-catching property utilises several key features to capture the best of the landscape, including a balcony that stretches the full length of the structure.

Modular House Accessed by a Bridge

Photo: Alison White

Homeowners Iain and Lesley MacDonald decided an upside down interior scheme was the best option for their plot. This was in part due to the number of trees which impeded the ground floor outlook, which belonged to their neighbours and weren’t likely to be removed.

Photo: Alison White

This design choice allows the sociable zones to benefit from breathtaking views across the water, whilst the downstairs bedrooms open out onto sun terraces.

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11. Modern Upside Down House in the Oxfordshire Countryside

An unexpected knock-down and rebuild opportunity allowed Tracey and Stephen Stewart to self-build a unique and ultra modern home.

Surrounded by the Oxfordshire countryside, an upside down layout allows the outdoors to become a part of the interior. Floor-to-ceiling glazing in the first floor kitchen and living area frames stunning rural panoramas, from which hares, Muntjac deer and skylarks can be glimpsed.

Modern Upside Down House in the Oxfordshire Countryside

Photo: Matt Chisnall

Downstairs, the ground floor houses guest bedrooms and a utility, with sliding doors leading out to the garden and an alfresco dining patio.

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12. Coastal Upside Down House Renovation Project

Once a tired 1980s pebbledash home, Jonathan and Jane Eddy’s house renovation works have transformed this property into a sleek and stylish abode.

Coastal Upside Down House Renovation Project

Photo: Alexandra Pratt

The influence behind the revamp, which was mostly achieved through permitted development, came from the surrounding Cornish coastline. Intent on framing their picture-perfect views, the couple decided an upside layout with plenty of glazing – including full height sliding doors – was the right choice for their house.

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13. Sympathetic New Home with a Camouflaged Exterior

While architectural choices are often made with the surrounding terrain in mind, Neil and Mary Gourlay decided to go one step further by integrating materials from the local landscape into their home’s fabric.

Sympathetic New Home with a Camouflaged Exterior

Photo: Douglas Gibb

Designed with an emphasis on sustainability, their softwood timber frame was sourced locally. In addition, 500 tonnes of stone were gathered from surrounding fields, and fleeces from neighbouring farms’ sheep were used for wall insulation.

Photo: Douglas Gibb

Nature shaped the interior scheme, too. After examining the path of the sun across the plot, the couple settled on an upside down house in order to maximise the available light in their living space.

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14. Upside Down House Nestled into a Valley

A yearning to be closer to nature led Simon and Alison Watkins to purchase a sloping plot in the Scottish Borders, complete with a design and build package by Gilbert Developments.

With the help of architect Gordon Melrose, they created a home in two halves, with a window-lined corridor linking the two levels.

Sympathetic New Home with a Camouflaged Exterior

Photo: David Barbour

On the first floor, the living spaces and master bedroom enjoy uninterrupted views of the rolling valley. Meanwhile, the bedrooms downstairs form a guest annexe for visitors and the couple’s grown up children.

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15. Striking Garage Conversion with Open-Plan Interiors

When the Hammills first purchased this space, it was a disused commercial garage that was dark and full of damp. Since buying the dilapidated building they have managed to convert it into an expansive three-storey property with an open-plan, upside down house layout and outside terrace.

Striking Garage Conversion with Open-Plan Interiors

Photo: Dave Burton

The space has been maximised through placing the kitchen-diner on the first floor, with open space, exposed beams and roof windows characterising the design.

Striking Garage Conversion with Open-Plan Interiors

Photo: Dave Burton

With accommodation spread over three storeys, Michael and Erica Hammill have used extraordinary design and industrial materials to link the building’s history as a commercial mechanical garage to its new identity.

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16. Spacious & Light-Filled Oak Frame Annexe

Steve and Janine Carney created this striking oak frame annexe following rejected plans to build a brand new home in their garden.

Spacious & Light-Filled Oak Frame Annexe

Photo: Nikhilesh Haval

The self build project features a unique upside down interior, with the kitchen/living areas positioned on the first floor, and bedroom, garage and office contained below.

Spacious & Light-Filled Oak Frame Annexe

Photo: Nikhilesh Haval

The upside down house layout ensures that the oak frame structure is both seen and appreciated. With exposed oak trusses, high vaulted ceilings and roof windows throughout the first-floor, the open plan living areas make use of copious natural light and space.

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