Skip to main content

What's Up Magazine

Expand Your Space

Sep 21, 2011 04:18PM ● By Anonymous

Dark. Dirty. Cold. Are these the words that come to mind when you hear the word basement? If so, then it’s time for a remodel. A finished basement not only gives you more space, it allows you to create the space of your dreams. Imagine—a playroom for your kids, a massive man cave, a workout area, an extra apartment, or coveted office space. Not only does refinishing a basement grant homeowners more square footage, it also helps with resale. In our area, Remodeling magazine’s 2010-11 Cost vs. Value Report ® reveals that homeowners recoup about 79 percent of the cost to complete a basement remodel. But, numbers alone can’t describe what many homeowners appreciate after they’ve finally completed the renovation.

“It’s something we put off and now, we keep asking ourselves, ‘why did we wait so long?’” says one local homeowner who recently remodeled her basement. “We can’t imagine not having this space for our kids and family.”

No matter what you plan for that extra square footage, we’ve got expert design advice.


The lower level of your house can be the perfect place for a game room with plenty of elbow space for pool and billiard tables.


First Things First

When you are ready to renovate, there are some special considerations. First and foremost is making sure your area is waterproofed and dry. If it’s damp and or moldy, take care of these problems by hiring a professional. You may find that it’s a simple fix such as sealing windows and doors, rerouting downspouts, or re-grading the landscape to slope away from your home. Moisture problems can also be corrected through providing good ventilation, insulation, and using a dehumidifier.

Next, consider what the space will be used for—a teenage hangout, a playroom, a man cave, a media room, a spare bedroom, a workout area, or all of the above? You can hire an architect, home remodel specialist, interior designer, or do it yourself, but don’t do it without a plan. Once you decide the function, make sure to include plenty of storage space, a bathroom, and access to heating, water valves, and electrical panels.

Since basements tend to have obstructions such as metal supports and dropped sections of the ceiling, one local interior designer says that she integrates these problem areas into the layout of the rooms so that they are less noticeable or even disappear altogether. “I always suggest planning the furniture placement before the basement is partitioned,” she advises. “Careful advance planning results in more attractive and more livable spaces.”


Creating a dedicated exercise room is a great way to conveniently stay in shape.

Lighten Up
Even though a light-starved basement can be a blessing if you want to install a home theater, when we asked local designers what the most important part of decorating a basement was, they responded (unanimously), “lighting, lighting, lighting.”

“The most important element in finishing off a basement is also the element that is most frequently handled poorly—lighting,” says one local designer. “Basements tend to be dark spaces, but using only ceiling lights creates a harsh, unflattering quality of light that reinforces the sense of being underground. I suggest avoiding overhead lights entirely in seating areas. A dark basement is an opportunity to be creative with light.” She recommends using a “layered lighting” approach, including sconces, lamps, picture lights, light valances, and cove lighting in addition to recessed lights.

And that’s just what another local designer did when she worked with a client who had a huge 2,200-square-foot basement with only one double window. “We added shuttered panels and backlit them in two areas in the walls and then we also added them across the back of the bar,” she explains. She also used cove lighting in the ceiling and supplemented the rest of the lighting with recessed lights and lamps.

If you opt for a media or theater area, make sure you can block light that may interrupt your big-screen feeling. Speaking of screens, many people also install a professional screen or paint their wall with special “screen” paint for picture and color clarity. (See below for more information about wall color.)

Finally, take a look at your floors. The concrete floors in most basements aren’t conducive to relaxation and play. Consider a wall-to-wall carpet with thick, high-quality padding, or add laminate wood or engineered hardwood (made especially for moisture prone areas). If you do select the latter two options, keep it warm with deep, luxurious area rugs. For an exercise room or weight room, consider installing interlocking rubber floor tiles that are designed to stand up to heavy exercise equipment and weights while providing cushioned support.


Dreaming of a private theater with comfy chairs? Add a wet bar for refreshments plus movie posters for an in-house getaway.


Create Your Space
If you’ve opted for the ultimate man cave, there are some “must haves.” A man cave must have a television—a large one—a dartboard, pool or game table, comfy, sturdy furniture, and a refrigerator. There are also some other “necessities,” such as tables for holding snacks, a wet bar, a wine cooler or wall keg (or both), and plenty of sports or hobby paraphernalia.

On the other hand, once the children are at the age where they don’t need constant supervision (somewhere between elementary–aged and teenagers), a basement area makes a great play or game room. Installing a pool table, ping-pong table, or arcade type games can keep kids entertained for hours. Also, make sure there’s a spot for video game consoles and plenty of room to move around.

Need a dedicated exercise room? A basement area can be your answer. Equipment can include a stationary bike, treadmill, step machine, or elliptical for aerobic activities as well as free weights. Or you can purchase an all-in-one home gym. However, make sure you know the dimensions of the space before ordering equipment to ensure that you have enough space (including ceiling height) to move around. A ceiling or wall-mounted television can help encourage you to workout just a bit longer.

The furniture you purchase for your newly finished basement obviously depends on the use of your room. However, it’s important to keep in mind that once you finish your basement, you may lose some valuable storage space. To remedy that, make sure you have plenty of “double duty” furniture such as storage ottomans and toy box benches that can serve as seating in a pinch. If you include a bar area, build it to mimic a kitchen island with plenty of storage space underneath (see below for more ideas). ■

Home Editor Renee Houston Zemanski thanks Karen Renee Interior Design Inc., Rendition Builders, Designline, and Fitzsimmons Design for their input.

If Walls Could Talk
Recommended wall colors in basements with little natural light:
• Tans, caramels, golds, and creamy yellows add warmth, but keep it light.
• Bright colors such as kiwi green and yellow can work, too, especially in a children’s play area.
• To create a theater room, use special screen paint or paint the wall a flat white as shinier sheens interfere with picture quality. Paint walls surrounding screen wall any color, even darks such as burgundy, navy, or wine.
• Choose orange or yellow for your exercise room, unless you’re into yoga, then go for a more calming light blue.