Turn an unfinished subterranean space into a guest bedroom or general family area with these tips.

By Lauren Wellbank
October 26, 2020
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finished basement
Credit: Getty / Andreas von Einsiedel

Basements are often missed opportunities—with a little bit of work, they could double as an extra bedroom or a general family hangout. Sure, making an underground area feel warm and welcoming has its challenges. However, most basements are prime real estate for homeowners looking to expand their house's square footage. Here, two experts explain what you need to do to transform your basement into a livable area.

Assess the Area

Before you get into the details of your basement upgrade, Michael DiMartino, the Senior Vice President of Installations at Power Home Remodeling, says you need first determine whether or not the area below your first floor is actually a viable living space. "A lot of basements, specifically in older homes, only stand at roughly five feet in height—which makes it pretty difficult for many people to stand up straight within that space," he says. Turning an unlivable basement into a livable one may require expensive and extensive measures, like excavating, which is the process of digging further down into the ground within your foundation—something DiMartino says is easier said than done. "Excavating is expensive. You need to create that additional space, build new foundation walls, and then finish the space. Depending on your budget, it might not be a feasible project," he adds.

Weather-Proof and Beautify

If you have a good space, you'll need to take care of things like waterproofing, framing, hanging drywall, and possibly relocating or concealing utility appliances like electric boxes and water heaters. You'll also need to decide what kind of a space you're looking to create. "What are you really looking for this to be? A den for your friends? A playroom for your kids? An apartment for your mother-in-law?" DiMartino asks. The type of space you want to create will dictate how you approach the project.

Add Lighting

Basements, by default, lack natural light and ceiling height, as compared to main- or upper-level living areas, explains Amy Leferink of Interior Impressions, which is why a proper lighting system is paramount, as is choosing lighter colors throughout. "Unless, of course, you are going for a 'moody man cave' vibe, keeping colors and materials lighter and brighter will help make the space feel more open, welcoming, and airy—as opposed to dark and enclosed," she says.

Go for Textural Walls

"We like to keep paint colors in basements neutral, as these spaces most commonly have multiple uses as families and children grow (for example: play area, home gym, entertaining or bar area, etc.)," Leferink explains. "One of our favorite go-tos to help add a layer of texture to any space, especially basements, is grass cloth wallpaper." She says that the fact that it's not too bold keeps it from being overpowering; plus, it adds a soft and subtle texture that can elevate your the room.

Be Smart About Flooring

When it comes to flooring, DiMartino recommends steering clear of real wood floors or carpeting. "Tile is my number one option, given that it's maintenance-free," he says. "Laminate wood is another popular choice given its affordability—but be aware that if you run into any flooding or water damage, these may buckle."

Examine Other Areas of Your Home

If you're debating a basement transformation, DiMartino suggests taking an audit of your home first and asking yourself if you're really running out of space, or just letting clutter take over. "Removing any unnecessary things out of livable spaces can free up rooms that already exist within your home, versus trying to create a livable space out of something that might not provide the value you are looking for," he says.

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