Design Confidently, Live Comfortably

Effective lighting, space planning, and lots of storage are even more important below grade

The world beneath your feet Smart strategies, from layered lighting to warm, comfortable furnishings, can make a lower level as pleasant as those above.
by Nicole Goldman

Extending your living space downstairs -- to the basement -- doesn't have to mean lowering your expectations. Proper lighting, well-designed architectural details, vibrant colors, and comforts typically associated with above-grade rooms can help transform that forbidding space below into a place where you and your family want to spend time. True, there are many challenges inherent in remodeling lower levels -- low ceilings, dampness, and poor lighting, coupled with the need to preserve storage area and utility access. But all of these can be overcome with good design, appropriate materials, and a bit of ingenuity.

Plan for now and for the future
Most primary living areas -- kitchen, living room, dining room -- have a predetermined function. Reclaiming a basement is like discovering real estate you didn't know you owned. It's easy for your plans to overwhelm both you and the space.

Start by assessing your needs. An extra bedroom? A home entertainment area? An exercise space? An office? Then ask yourself what that use will require. Insulation to muffle the sound of teenagers and their electronic games? A refrigerator or sink for serving food and drinks?

Letting light flow An open stairway, glass block walls, and a French door to an office area let light disperse naturally throughout the Aronoffs' basement.

Establishing different zones within a large open room is one approach that makes the most of light and air movement. But structural considerations may dictate your best layout. For example, in remodeling the basement of Jessica and David Aronoff's Newton, Mass., home, LDa Architects of Cambridge worked with the existing structure, incorporating support columns into a glass-block wall.

It's a good idea also to consider what function the space may fill in coming years. Today's playroom may later serve as teen hangout, and still later as an apartment for an elderly relative or returning college grad. If you foresee the need for a bathroom, bringing in plumbing at the time of the initial renovation will prove more cost-effective than deciding down the road. Keep in mind also that some uses, such as bedrooms, must meet specific code requirements. Take time to develop a long-range plan and discuss it with your contractor and, if need be, building inspector, to be sure any changes to the space won't limit adaptations later on.

NEXT: Lighten It Up

Lighten It Up
Don't Duck Ceiling Issues
Preserve Some Storage Space
Make the Connection
Underground Matters
Some Tips for a Better Basement


Home by Design
America's leading residential architect goes beyond The Not So Big House

Sarah Susanka

More Info

Concrete at Home
Innovative forms and finishes for floors, countertops, walls and fireplaces

Fu-Tung Cheng

More Info

Front and Backyard Idea Book Collection
Practical ideas for planning and decorating inviting yet functional outdoor spaces

Lee Anne White
Jeni Webber

More Info