In many houses, the basement is a neglected space. And no wonder. Who would want to spend time in an area that is dank and disorderly, with beams low enough to clunk your head on or floors that get soaked on rainy days? But with the right organizing strategies, a basement can be quite the opposite of this dreary image. As the one in Martha's home in Bedford, New York, demonstrates, it can be a clutter-free, functional place. It can even be cheerful.
Upon moving into her 1925 Colonial-style four-bedroom house, Martha vowed to make the basement useful. "I wanted it to be an excellent spot for storage, laundry, and projects like wrapping presents, and also for crafting," she says. This was a tall order for the 2,600-square-foot space, which was completely unfinished and featured dirt floors and low ceilings. Some of it was merely crawl space.
Martha set out to have the basement finished, an undertaking that included digging out the too-small nooks to create usable rooms. She then outfitted each of the rooms -- including a professionally equipped laundry room, a room for crafts and gift wrapping, two large storage rooms, a bathroom, and a wine cellar -- with the necessary supplies and fixtures to suit its designated purpose.
The floors in much of the basement were covered in 1-inch-square glazed white tiles, which have a light, bright look. "And they're easy to clean and maintain -- a must in a house with three dogs and five cats," Martha says. White subway tiles were used on the laundry room and bathroom walls. Vintage overhead light fixtures with compact fluorescent bulbs, shelves and tables made of sturdy stainless steel, and electrical conduits lining the interior walls all combined to give the rooms an industrial look, an aesthetic that Martha felt was appropriate for the working spaces.
1. Rolling, Locking Shelves: Sturdy, adjustable aluminum shelving -- containing the overflow from Martha's vast supply of dishes, pots, pans, and other kitchenware -- uses space from floor to ceiling.
2. Screen Savers: Custom wooden cases house screens and storm windows, which are labeled to make it easier to return them to their proper places when it's time. A lining of carpet prevents scratched frames.
3. Functional Floor: The largest storage room in Martha's basement has a smooth concrete floor instead of the tiling employed elsewhere. The surface makes it easy to roll heavy, wheeled shelving units. Floor drains guard against flooding.
4. Raised Pallet: As an added precaution against flooding, extra dining chairs and other furnishings are kept on aluminum racks. These pallets keep valuables off the floor and away from any dampness.
1. Soaking Sinks: Deep, vintage terra-cotta sinks were among the treasures that came with the house. Replumbed, they are just right for cleaning and soaking. A vintage white enamel towel bar mounted to the tiled wall is handy.
2. Efficient Lighting: The ceiling fixtures throughout the basement (some with wire cages, some with bulbs exposed) are fitted with compact fluorescent lightbulbs. They use less energy, create less heat, and last up to 10 times longer than standard incandescent bulbs. Available in a variety of sizes and tones, this type of lightbulb is useful for nearly any fixture.
3. Wheeled Carts: Commercial metal laundry carts, some with hanging bars, are convenient for organizing clean and dirty clothing and linens. Rubber edges around the basket tops soften the blow when they bang into a table -- or a knee.
4. Ironing and Folding Table: An expansive table with a padded white muslin cover was designed to provide plenty of space for ironing and folding laundry. The cats -- here, Verdi, Vivaldi, and Bartok -- have claimed the shelf below as their favorite place to rest (and enjoy their catnip).
5. White Tiles: The tiled floor gives the space a clean look and is easy to maintain.
1. Supply Shelves: An extra-large stainless steel kitchen table holds crafts supplies -- many organized in clear plastic bins with press-on label sleeves. A paper cutter (on the tabletop) is a useful tool. This table is also used for unwrapping packages.
2. Wire Shelf: Martha found this vintage shelf at an antiques shop and left it in its charming, if slightly worn, condition. Sitting atop a bracketed wooden shelf, it is ideal for crafts supplies. Galvanized trays on the bottom shelves keep ribbon spools and other items arranged neatly.
3. Ribbon Organizer: A set of slim metal cafe-curtain rods, attached to wooden shelf brackets, holds a colorful assortment of ribbons and twines. The rods are removable, so spools can be easily replaced.
4. Plenty of Paper: Oversize rolls of paper, such as butcher paper, can be found at kitchen- and shipping-supply stores. This one is positioned at the end of another stainless steel work table, where it can be unfurled quickly to cover boxes.
5. Flat Files: Long, shallow drawers are terrific for sorting and storing large sheets of colored tissue and other papers -- with no worries about wrinkling. Perched on the stool is Electra, Martha's youngest cat, a seal lynx point Himalayan.