The Case of the Basement Bistro

I’ve been around the block.

All the way around the block.

At least I thought I had been all the way around the block . . . until now.

Take a look at his image

Uh, oh, here we go.
Uh, oh, here we go.

See those black holes in the concrete wall in the basement, yep . . . that’s right . . . the bistro. This is where the client plans to host dinner parties and wants something to look at out the windows, and allow for natural light to stream down into the bistro.

It doesn’t look any better from the other side

A look from the other side, its not any easier.
A look from the other side, it's not any easier.

Add in the fact that there are doors that tie into this setting, plus the transitions involved with that, all in a very small area.


When I first looked at this site what I really wanted to do was find the architect and put my boot up his . . . I digress.

When I was still there I was thinking that the best way to treat the homeowner’s request is to take that dirt wall and somehow turn that wall into the wall of the bistro.

In other words those glass windows are big enough to look all the way through. That the glass windows are not the wall of the room . . . but a “see-through”.


I’m probably not explaining this as well as I want. Which I am finding frustrating . . . I guess we have to wait for the drawings.

So even though it’s outside . . . it’s inside. Am I crazy, maybe so. I am going to start sketching something up this weekend and I’ll/we’ll see.

The real problem here is how to tie in the door/access on both sides. There is going to be some walkways and those walks are going to require some retaining walls to hold everything in place. Lots of level changes and structural integrity.

Walls, walks, doors, steps, natural light, aesthetics, need for a view, natural light, and a basement bistro,

Man I love this job.

By Rick Anderson

The Whispering Crane Institute was originally formed to act as the umbrella organization for the Philosophy of Design Symposium, and other seminars and workshops given by Rick Anderson and Richard L. Dube’. In the year 2000 WCI became a sole proprietorship owned by Rick Anderson. Today the WCI provides design and consultation services for Landscape Contractors, acts as a Green Industry think tank, and provides training for others in the form of workshops, seminars, and individual consulting. The WCI also provides written material, opinions, case-studies and how-to articles for industry trade magazines.


  1. I feel sorry for you!

    No need to feel sorry for me, this is the kind of design problem that i really get into. I told the contractor . . . well at least this isn’t a job for beginners.

    My first thoughts are to extend the building walls and connect them to a retaining wall parallel to the bistro window wall. Possibly create an interior garden? The extended walls could have steps which would provide access to the upper level doors and also the lower garden.

    What to do about drainage……now this seems to be a main problem. It does not appear that there is any lower elevation to lead pipes to.

    Drainage is always a problem. Show me a designer who doesn’t pay attention to drainage, and I’ll show you a “amateur designer”

    Hmmm. Going with your thoughts (if I got it) of making the lower area as part of the interior, how about having the “interior garden” a big enclosed fish tank? No, huh.

    my gut keeps saying . . . inside-out, inside-out . . ..

    How far can you push a parallel wall back on the property?
    If far, possibly slope the grade back towards the wall and put in some type of dry well.

    Far, but if the . . . inside-out is the deal it will be closer rather than further.

    It will be interesting what you come up with.

    I hope!!!!!

  2. I don’t see where the doors and walkways will be. Are they on the level of the soil in the area outside of the windows? Are these doors transitioning to the outside?

    Here’s a thought. Outdoor rooms are still outdoors, that’s a given and is accepted. They are appealing as it is great atmosphere and experience to be outdoors. But every one knows that outdoor rooms are on the outside.

    The challenge, as you have stated it, is how to bring the outdoors in. Or at least to give the appearance that they are inside. This can be done by creating walls that are out side but look as if they are inside, even if the walls that are outside are “landscaped”. In order to pull this off, there needs to be “ceiling” or overhead structure, that extends outwards from the indoor room, the bistro, to the opposing wall. This will be quite a challenge as with any overhead structure light will be blocked. Blocking the natural light is not acceptable in this case.

    So the challenge is to bring as much light into the bistro as well as the room that is on the outside of the glass while giving the feeling of a ceiling.

    Could be a pergola like structure. There are many possibilities here.

    You’re correct. I love this work.

    Thanks for the comments and the thoughts. Look to #2 to answer a lot of the above questions. I really am rolling around a lot of options at this point. I may even show more than my best one to the homeowner to get the dialogue and ideas moving along.

  3. Understanding the orientation of the building to the sun is critical in maximizing natural lighting. What is the orientation of this building?

    My guess from the photos is that the Bistro windows face north.

    This is an interesting project and challenge. I look forward to following its progress in this blog.

    You’re right about the sun, those were taken in the evening. So the back of the house does face North so those Bistro windows will receive the least amount of light.

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