Turn a neglected basement into a pleasant, useful room

Tribune Media ServicesNovember 23, 2012 

This attractive playroom hardly recalls its first life as a basement!


Dark, damp, musty and a cluttered eyesore. These are typical descriptions of basements. The lowest room in the house is often chilly and often ranks second in messiness only to the garage. Yet the average basement has an abundance of storage and living options, making it a terrific place to renovate, adding value and enjoyment to your home.

Function first

Determining how you want to use the space is the first step in planning your basement renovation. Whether you want to create a wine cellar, exercise center, media or craft room, figure out how much space each would require. Start with a to-scale drawing of your basement. Be sure to include any pillars, beams, or other facets that can’t be moved or changed, and indicate any windows, doors or stairs.

Once you can visualize the space, work with to-scale cutouts of furniture or appliances to make a mock-up of your new layout.

Basic elements

If your renovation work requires a work permit, be sure to secure one. Also, be aware that basement renovations are quite different from those in the rest of the house. Dealing with moisture and cold requires extra water-proofing and insulation before standard items like drywall and flooring go in. Another important concern is the ceiling. In basements, the two choices are a suspended ceiling or drywall, and each has its merits. As a rule, though, a finished, drywall ceiling looks more finished and attractive. Once the ceiling and walls are in, the floor is your next challenge.

Basement flooring often must stand up to moisture, making tile, vinyl, or faux wood terrific options. Of course, if water isn’t an issue, carpet is a warmer choice. Due to the chilly nature of many basements, be sure to consider heating. Radiant heat under the floors is a cozy option and sends heat upward. Baseboard heaters are another good choice.

Details, details

With few or no windows, most basements need extra lighting. Opt for small, bright white halogen spots instead of large, recessed can lights. They’re brighter, whiter and give a brilliant light. Camouflaging support beams is a great way to add storage or visual interest. Build a cabinet or wall around each beam to hide it completely.

Too often, basements lack the same details the rest of the house enjoys, or they have inferior details, such as smaller trim around doors. When adding trim, cabinetry and other details in your basement, go for the same quality you’d demand upstairs. This will help the space blend with the rest of the house and look cohesive. Attractive wall treatments, such as stone or tile, will also unify the space and add interest.

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