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Basement Bonus Rooms

16 smart ways to turn dead space into a comfy place for unwinding, entertaining, and working

Basement Bonus Rooms

Sometimes that extra room you've always wanted is right under your feet. Elizabeth Willett, an interior decorator in Atlanta, was looking to fulfill several needs in her family's 1927 Tudor-style house when she saw untapped potential in its walk-out basement. "It already had a fireplace and a tiny bath, but it had never really been properly finished," she says. While the ceiling was low, it wasn't too low, and moisture—that bane of basement remodels—wasn't a problem.

Soon Elizabeth and her husband, Chris, were picturing the equivalent of an 830-square-foot addition, minus the new footprint, with a whole host of amenities. Working with architect Jack Davis and contractor Rod Boyer, the couple created a family retreat and entertainment space at the bottom of the stairs. Guests can hang a left to check out the wine cellar or plop down on a sofa facing the stone fireplace and a TV. Davis even managed to fit in a full bath, a laundry area, a food pantry, and a home-office space. "There were lots of nooks and crannies, and we've used every square inch," Elizabeth says.

While their redo was unusually ambitious, it involved design solutions to problems that crop up in any basement conversion. Read on to learn how the family went from floor plan to finished space, then find five extra basement design ideas.

Welcome to the Clubhouse

Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

The rustic-looking family room is now a gathering spot for 16-year-old Catherine and her friends. Support posts were replaced with ceiling beams, and soft furnishings, including a sofa that opens up for overnight guests, replaced cobwebs and cardboard boxes.

Soffits finished with tongue-and-groove planks hide ducts, vents, and support beams.

Architect: Jack Davis

Builder: Rod Boyer, Atlanta, GA; 404-372-6929

Sliding Access

Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

A barn door adds texture and visual interest. It can slide over to hide the adjacent wine cellar.

Cottage-Style Office

Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

Homeowner Elizabeth Willett, an interior decorator, created a corner office with casual touches, such as a sawhorse desk and stools with pumpkin-orange slipcovers. Commercial-style shelves hold files in canvas bins—"one per client," she says. The redo benefited from existing windows; deep new sills offer impromptu storage and display space.

Working with a lighting pro, Elizabeth augmented natural light throughout the basement with task lamps, wall sconces, and recessed fixtures with halogen bulbs. Walls throughout are finished with painted rough-sawn plywood; battens create the look of paneling and hide any seams.

Canvas Bins: Bed Bath & Beyond

Lamp: West Elm

Slipcover fabric: IKEA

Curtained Partition

Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

Off-white paint and mostly neutral furnishings keep the basement's nooks and crannies bright. A soft canvas room divider, which echoes the office's storage bins, hangs on one side of the fireplace, allowing air, light, and traffic to flow between the two areas

Paint: Benjamin Moore, Linen White

Rustic Wine Cellar

Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

In a 78-square-foot chamber lined with open wine racks, a painted column stands as an emblem of the basement's past. While wine cellars are often a solid bet for cool basements, this one gets a boost against Atlanta's heat with AC. To warm up the space­ visually, Elizabeth incorporated family heirlooms, including a rug and corner cabinet handed down by her father-in-law.


Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

Louvered panels disguise an air conditioner while allowing air to circulate.

Vintage-Look Bathroom

Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

Paneled walls and doors, a porcelain pedestal sink with a cross-handle faucet, and a space-enhancing glass shower door give the bath a timeless look. Limestone floor tiles, used throughout, add a light-reflective surface and have a pragmatic side: They can't be compromised by drips or leaks.

Sink: Kohler

Faucet: Rohl

Neat, Clean Laundry Room

Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

The corner laundry nook is so inviting, no one minds dashing in there during TV commercials to fold sheets and match socks. A small sink with extra storage underneath is convenient for spot-washing and cleanup.

Washer/dryer: Kenmore

Faucet: Moen

Extra Storage

Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

Adjustable shelves hold laundry supplies and free up folding space on top of the machines.

Basement Floor Plan

Illustration by Ian Worpole

Architect Jack Davis laid out the 830-square-foot basement around a family room and home office, with the existing hearth dividing them. He fit other rooms, including a wine cellar, pantry, bath, and mechanicals closet, into the remaining space like a jigsaw puzzle, ganging plumbing for the laundry and bath at the back of the house.

5 Problem-Solving Basement Redos

Photo by Tria Giovan

Creative thinking turned these five basements into high-functioning bonus rooms as nice as the ones upstairs.

Homework Central

Problem: Four kids—and their backpacks—were cluttering up the kitchen after school.

Solution: A group homework station inspired by library carrels. The upper cabinets hold school and art supplies, and also hide ductwork.

Homework Central

Photo by Tria Giovan

An under-the-staircase space provides storage for a shared printer and hole punch. The grown-up decor echoes the one upstairs.

Architect: Carol J.W. Kurth, AIA

Builder: Legacy Construction Northeast

Drinks Station

Photo by Mark Samu

Problem: Refreshments were a flight of stairs away when family and friends hit the basement TV room.

Solution: A wet bar with a granite top and mini fridge for snacks. Wood tones and peach-colored walls warm up the snug space, which is adjacent to a sitting area with a flat-screen. Stained-birch coffering overhead helps define the area; recessed lights on dimmers keep the atmosphere cozy.

Design and construction:

Durst Construction

Christopher Moleski Fine Woodworking, Whitney Point, NY; 607-323-5081

Place for Fun and Games

Photo by Mark Samu

Problem: No room upstairs for a longed-for billiards table.

Solution: A basement space with plenty of elbow room for pool, plus a poker table set on a carpeted platform. Vintage-style light fixtures, dark wood finishes, a coppery ceiling, and faux-leather upholstered walls create an elegant setting.

Design: Noli Design

Cozy Home Theater

Photo by Mark Samu

Problem: A teenager had outgrown his room, and the family's new TV was outsized for its space.

Solution: Move the media center to the basement so that the teen could spread out, and build a TV cabinet big enough for movie viewing. Recessed lights make the most of the ceiling height, while pendants create a reading nook. The shelving unit was made for under $100 with 2-inch framing lumber and a salvaged window. A tip from the kid's dad: Be sure to prime and paint before installing a built-in like this.

Design: Lucianna Samu

Builder: Restorations Unlimited, Salem, NY; 518-854-3389.

Airy Suite for Guests

Basement flooring Mark Samu

Problem: House-guests needed a room of their own.

Solution: A suite modeled after the homeowner's favorite boutique hotel, with clean lines and a crisp palette. She boxed out the support column and ductwork, put down leather-look 18-by-18-inch porcelain floor tiles, painted the walls bright white, and hung framed photos. A sitting area allows the basement to double as a party space.

Design: Maria Billis

Builder: Stephen Ethier, Saratoga Springs, NY; 518-469-8001