Updating a basement? 5 things you should consider

Gone are the days of ‘low’ unfinished basements that reek of mold and mildew.  Only used as a place to do laundry, access storage, sports gear, and Christmas decorations.

Now that fixer-uppers are going for a million or more, spending $100,000 to $150,000 doesn’t sound unreasonable to reclaim existing space and is a lot cheaper than doing an addition, and basements are easier than attics.

In upscale neighbourhoods, with historical designation and height restrictions, contractors are now digging deep to create spaces three or four levels below ground, so that they can house bowling alleys, Olympic size pools – you name it – just dig it.  Called “iceberg” architecture, what you see above ground is just the tip of what lies below.

For regular folks, this newfound space, becomes a fantasy space.  When all the necessary rooms for daily living are accounted for above ground, the basement becomes a space where your imagination can run wild.  

That’s when I dubbed basements “The Lower Level Retreat”.  They’re not the ‘base’ of the house but rather another level for living, that happens to be below the ground line.  With a shift in naming this space comes a shift in thinking about the space and its functions.

These spaces can house entertainment centers with large 50” to 60” televisions, sizes that would normally dominate a regular living space.  This allows the guys to watch their favourite sports and game to their heart’s content.

For the practically minded, extra storage space is always welcome and if you’re going to have a laundry room, then why not add a little panache? The ultimate home office can double up as a guest room when grandma and grandpa come to visit.

Other leisure lair spaces include wine cellars, spa retreat that doubles as a doggie grooming centre with heated floors, therapeutic pools for athletic injuries, music studios and …. a village with a large scale train model for the kid in all of us. The possibilities are endless.

So, how do you design a livable, lovable space that feels warm and cozy?

Let’s start with the basics:

Planning: 

  • Open plan seems to work best.  And, if you need to enclose spaces for privacy then make the walls moveable, to enclose or open a space as required.

Building:

  • Ideally, a finished eight foot ceiling suits everyone best. Remember that recessed pot lights, flooring and under-floor infrastructure reduces available height.
  • Make sure to address structural issues and all possible moisture issues. Hire a contractor who knows all about basements.
  • I prefer to add radiant floor heat.  If not the whole floor then, at minimum, in the washroom spa area.  When your tootsies are warm, then the rest of you will feel warm, cozy and pampered.

Lighting:

  • The trick is to find light fixtures and bulbs that spread light in all directions, filling surfaces with light and minimizing harsh shadows.  Helping decrease the cave-like effect.
  • Choose ‘warm’ colour temperature of 2700K or 3000K.  Bluish light of 4000K is cool and will feel fridge-like and not somewhere you’d like to hang-out, especially in the winter.
  • Use different sources of lighting throughout the space such as lamps and LED strips in built-in shelving.   

Decor and Design:

  • Raise sofas and other large pieces of furniture ‘off’ the floor.  Your eye travels underneath furniture on raised legs, keeping the look light and airy.  
  • Use lighter colours and textures as a focal point for emphasis and drama.
  • Don’t place a television over a fireplace.  Together they are visually overwhelming. 

Flooring:

  • Make sure to use a modular flooring system.  Should water damage occur, pieces can be popped out of place and new product installed easily.  Large rolled goods such as carpet or linoleum should be avoided.  When wet, mold and mildew occur. 
  • I’ve had a lot of success with carpet tile over plywood.  Carpet tile acts as an insulator, removable, easily cleaned, and easily re-installed.
  • Your best options for flooring are porcelain tile, marble, vinyl, or laminate planks. Engineered hardwood is debatable, but plank flooring is your best bet. 

Fixing up the basement, I mean lower level, will add much happiness to you and your home. 

What is your Lower Level dream?

A serene condo in Toronto’s bustling downtown

When purchasing this 1,205 square foot condo, steps away from Toronto’s downtown core, the client imagined a highly customized, open space that buffered the hectic city environment with serenity and calm. In the interview with the design team, the client specifically asked for a lot of concealed storage, a large home office, and a sophisticated design suitable for entertaining.

Interior Designer: Mini Ryu, ARIDO

Design Firm: Ryu Design

Project Photographer: Margaret Mulligan

Interior Designer Mini Ryu modified the layout of the space, removing a powder room to increase the size of the office space while respecting the client’s budget.

The centrally located kitchen makes a natural gathering place for guests, with warm oak flooring underfoot, and sleek white lacquer cabinetry that provides the requested concealed storage. Opposite the kitchen is a curved wall of windows, that lets natural light flood into the space. The design team carefully planned the placement of furniture, lighting, and accessories to create harmony on this curved line. A dark, smoky glass coffee table, warm accent fabrics and a collection of interesting accessories add warmth to the space.

A home office off the front entrance of the unit is partitioned with white translucent glass offering privacy and visual interest with shadows and silhouettes, while allowing natural daylight to penetrate.

In the bathroom, warm earth tones, and varied textures of wood balance the modern, clean lines of white millwork, geometric shapes and abstract art. Baked ceramic pieces are scattered across a wall like leaves from a gentle breeze, adding to a spa‐like peace at the end of a long day.

Each of these elements from the design adds up to an effective balance of functionality and style with modern, natural and rustic elements executed in visual harmony.