Bunker-Like Underground Mansion Is One Way to Dodge Zoning Rules

Real estate developer and rugby team owner Steve O’Connor wanted to build a mega-mansion in the English countryside. The only problem: Local zoning codes wouldn’t allow a space as large as he envisioned to be built above-ground.

So he went underground.

“We couldn’t get planning consent for the country house we wanted to build, but we were told we could build anything we wanted as long as it was underground,” Widnes Vikings owner Steve O’Connor

told the Wall Street Journal

of his home in Helsby, England. “We dug out almost 2 million cubic feet of sandstone and created a quarry that would allow us to build a house inside.” Two levels containing bedrooms and baths, totaling about 1,300 square feet, peek above ground like a periscope; the top level comprises the master suite. The rest of the 13,600-square-foot home is spread across two subterranean levels, although a courtyard creates a kind of light well that allows sunshine to stream in (when the English sun breaks through, anyway).

The millionaire, who has been


as a “socially acceptable psychopath” (“I took it as a compliment!”), recently put the home up for sale for $7.3 million.

O’Connor’s 9-acre property, which he

dubbed “Steppingstone”

(it shares the name of his


), also has pretty much everything a family with two young boys, lots of friends and millions of dollars could desire. Indoors there’s an two-story “natatorium” with an infinity pool that glows pink and a spa from which you can watch TV while you soak; a sauna and steam room; and a gym.

On the lowest level, there’s a “sports hall” with multiple televisions, a bar and game tables.

Outdoors you’ll find a complete 40-foot soccer field with posh viewing areas, a tree house, a playground, a fire pit and a zip wire, and plenty of bikes to barrel around the grounds.

There are also a couple of “superlambananas,” unique lamb-banana animal sculptures designed by Manhattan-based Japanese artist Taro Chiezo (there’s a famous one in Liverpool).

For the biggest kid of the house, there’s a helipad — necessary for O’Connor’s frequent business trips to London, which he can reach in about 55 minutes in his helicopter. The home also has relatively quick access to international airports in Manchester and Liverpool.

And there’s a surprising amount of fuchsia decor.

There are five bedroom suites and staff quarters, 10 bathrooms, formal living and dining rooms, a gourmet kitchen, a studio and a wine cellar, just to name a few of the spaces.

The house was built with a steel frame, which means it’s “very well insulated and low energy,” O’Connor

told theJournal

, mentioning that a ventilation shaft draws in fresh air.

Like the residents of Southern California’s

five-stories-underground mansion Hacienda de La Paz


Yahoo Real Estate recently profiled

), the O’Connors want people to know there’s plenty of air and sunshine in their mostly underground dwellings. Both owners have mentioned that people seem to think the mansions’ occupants are strange “mole people” who live in the dark.

But if life at Steppingstone is so grand, why would the O’Connor family want to sell the place?

“Even when we started building, we had a five-year plan to take our boys to Australia to bring them up,” O’Connor told The Wall Street Journal. “Once we get there, I’ll be looking for the opportunity to build Steppingstone II.”



is held by Savills.