Bonus Room Basement
Words and Design by Bruce Wentworth
Images by Stacy Zarin-Goldberg
Unfinished basements can often feel like a dark and damp cave, even if the basement is used merely for storage or laundry. But sometimes, with a smart remodel and unique design aesthetic, a basement can become a chic and airy loft-like space. This was the case for a recent 1920s townhouse basement remodeling project in the historic Woodley Park neighborhood of Northwest Washington DC.
A family of four, with two young children, wanted to turn their dark and gloomy basement into a multifunctional space with defined areas for play, TV, and work. The homeowners specifically desired an office space with a built-in desk, a laundry closest for their stack washer/dryer, ample storage units, and an enclosure to conceal the mechanical equipment.
In order to meet the client requirements, a three-space zone concept was incorporated into the design. Zone 1 became a designated TV area, made possible by covering an impractical and unused fireplace. Zone 2, between existing columns, was left open for the children to play, with toy storage available in nearby closets and storage units. Zone 3, at the rear of the basement, became a cozy home office with a custom built-in desk, bookcases, and a secluded and comfortable space for work.
Despite its location below ground, the new basement feels like a modern loft space that maintains the charm from the historic townhouse above. The chic design was made possible in large part because of a clever solution for the typically low ceiling.
The removal of the old ceiling allowed for the exposure of the floor joists, cross bracing, and diagonal subfloor above. What some may see as the innards of a home became the basement’s most exciting design feature: the exposed ceiling was painted white, thus enhancing the sense of space and creating a seamless integration from the walls to the ceilings.
Redundant wiring and piping were removed or relocated to minimize the visual congestion. A new bulkhead, running from the front of the basement to the back, now holds a majority of the ductwork and piping. Even the basement’s existing columns were transformed into functional design features.
Columns were clad in drywall and fitted with horizontal beech wood, fabricated in aesthetically pleasing pattern with narrow gaps to reveal color. A series of three columns follows the bulkhead from front to back and helps to unify the space. Repetition and pattern are supremely important to the new design: from large-scale floor tile (12’’ X 24’’) in a neutral gray to the exposed floor joists to the column woodwork.
In addition to uniquely maximizing space literally and visually, lighting proved critical to creating a space that felt like a home’s above ground family room. A large street-facing window captures plenty of afternoon sunlight, but the placement of stock light bulb sockets across the vertical sides of the front-to-back bulkhead allows for interchangeable lighting depending on need and mood: silver-tipped bulbs give an air of sophistication while warm bulbs with a sepia tint warm up the space for a movie night.
What was once a dark and even scary basement with a sloping floor is now a modern, functional, and charming space with a leveled floor (thanks to a liquid floor leveler poured other top of the uneven 1920s floor slab). The basement is perfect for a busy family on-the-go, a family who now doesn’t mind spending much of their time in the basement.
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