It all started with these words from my client: “I need a work-from-home space”.
When my client moved from her company’s offices to work at home during the pandemic, she, like so many others, set up her office in her dining room. Despite her best efforts to get comfortable, she realized she needed a long-term solution – a dedicated space that was not on the main floor of the home.
What follows is the story of overlooked potential – the story of A 1950s Basement Transformation from a storage area into a lower-level living environment.
My client’s ranch-style home had a basement with ample but unused space. When I first walked down the steps into her basement, it was like entering a time capsule! The walls were covered with the original knotty pine paneling. Old warped ceiling tiles were dotted with outdated light fixtures and plumbing pipes. A wood-burning fireplace that desperately needed a visual overhaul. In addition, everything my client’s family could not store in their own homes was piled high. It was a mess.
As we wound through the space, though, I thought “Wow, this has potential!” Eventually, after walking through the laundry room, we came to a small, nicely lit room. I thought, “this could be her office.” My client then looked at me and asked what I thought. I said, “This room could be a great workspace for you, but do you really want to walk through this existing basement and laundry to get here?” She said, “No, I really don’t…. and the fun began.
A 1950s Basement Transformation: Step 1 – Create A Plan.
Whenever you begin any type of project as extensive as this one was, it is important to create a plan. Remember Ben Franklin’s famous quote? “A failure to plan is a plan to fail”. Without a doubt, the designated office was a top priority. Equally important was the potential for the rest of the space. As we talked about my client’s needs and wants, a very clear wish list emerged.
- Design an entertainment space for friends and family. The outdoor space was amazing, the indoor space not so much.
- Create an exercise area that was not hidden away in a separate room but could be “hidden” when not in use.
- Transform an ugly duckling fireplace into a beautiful focal point in the room.
- Integrate technology with sound, stereo and televisions all synced together for sporting events.
- An avid wine enthusiast and collector, incorporate her existing EuroCave wine refrigerator into the design.
- Provide storage for all entertaining needs on this level.
- Create a warm, light, bright friendly space so you do not feel like you are in a basement.
A 1950s Basement Transformation: Step 2 – Clear The Clutter.
Here is another view of what I saw in one corner of the basement. You can see how cluttered it was. Often, my clients cannot always see the potential of the spaces in their homes. While this may be true for my clients, I can. I love a design challenge like the one this space presented.
So, my client gave me the go-ahead to create her dream. Demo began. New walls and ceilings replaced the old knotty pine panels and old ceiling tiles. There were exposed pipes that we could not recess into the wall so we hid them in boxed-out chases which became architectural details. A television is mounted on a swivel arm which can be directed to the exercise area or the bar.
A 1950s Basement Transformation: Step 3 – Space Planning.
Here you can see the original fireplace and the doorway into the laundry room space. By relocating the wall back 48″ we created a hallway with access to the office and a separate doorway to the laundry room. The old pine material covering the beam and the column was replaced with custom recessed panel millwork which was then painted. Again, this added to the architectural details of the room.
As shown below, a view from the exercise area. To the left of the clock is the new hallway to the office and to the right, is the laundry room entrance. We covered the columns with millwork which created a decorative element and defined the spaces. The fireplace was completely transformed using stacked stone and a reclaimed beam for a mantle. We added floating shelves left and right of the fireplace for decorative display. Matching hide ottomans are ready to help with additional and portable seating.
When not in use, the exercise equipment can be hidden behind a portable decorative folding screen. Next to that space is where I decided to place the bar, as you can see in the image below.
As I mentioned earlier, my client is an avid wine enthusiast. The bar and wine tasting area was a very important part of the plan. We incorporated her existing EuroCave wine storage unit into the design. We also added an under-counter refrigerator for soft drinks and mixers as well as a clear cube ice maker and a sink. There is a trash/ recycling cabinet and ample storage for bottles, cans, glasses, and anything else you can think of for a great party. The floating shelves have integrated lighting to illuminate the back bar and sink area.
A 1950s Basement Transformation: Step 4 – The Details
Whenever I design any space, the details of the design will make or break the design. It is important to consider who will be using every piece you place in the space. This basement would be used to entertain girlfriends, and couples, six-foot-plus nephews, and my client’s pup. Everything was selected with a purpose.
An oversized sectional can seat all of the family or the girls for television binging. The curved back on the sectional softens the right angles of the cabinetry and makes the seating area more inviting. We also used a high-quality floating vinyl floor which we installed over the old tile. The cork back makes it quiet to walk on, soft on bare feet, and provides insulation. This floor is also pet friendly. The color is a driftwood hue. We added a beautiful carpet to the seating area and a broadloom for the stairs and office.
I especially love the whimsy of the light fixtures. Above the bar, the lights resemble wine glasses. The hanging fixture is a nod to the location of the space, which is underground. It appears to be tree roots growing into the room. My client, in her words, “squealed in delight” when we first turned it on.
There are many decorative touches used in the design.
Art holds a special place in my client’s heart. One piece is a photo my client took while traveling in Norway with her family. Another was a personal gift from my client’s father. The orange accent colors used in the room are inspired by those art pieces. While the bar is very linear, this seating area says sit right down and stay a while.
When we moved a closet door around the corner into the exercise area, I used the reclaimed space for this unique console and lamps. The round shape of the mirror is repeated in the wall decorations and drink tables used in the room. Balance and rhythm are important basics of good design.
A 1950s Basement Transformation: The Work From Home Space, Completed.
The office space is quiet and removed from the main part of the basement. There is a desk large enough for multiple screens, a small bookcase holding office supplies, and a comfortable chair for conference calls. Because working from home requires many online meetings, we added a shiplap wall painted in Hale Navy to contrast with the orange fabric on the chair. We finished the décor with a painting from my client’s father. We painted the frame as a craft project we did together. This is the background her online clients will see.
The icing on the cake after a large renovation job like this is when your client leaves you such a meaningful – and unsolicited – testimonial, on your Instagram feed!
This team led by @thymeandplacedesign and Sharon was the most organized, creative, friendly, professional and super clean team I have ever seen. I worked every day upstairs (awaiting my new office build as part of the Reno) and only had to leave one day when they drilled out the old existing brick hearth part of the fireplace. If you want a Reno done with CARE, this is the team to hire. I love my new space(s) and didn’t know it could ever be so beautiful thanks to the vision @thymeandplacedesign had. I saw a disaster and she saw a masterpiece! Thank you!!!!!
When you can see the potential and have a client who trusts you, the possibilities are endless.
I hope you have enjoyed my blog and have found some inspiration for your own basement transformations. Are you planning a renovation? I can help. Just click here to visit my website. We offer a variety of service packages. One might be just the thing you are looking for.
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Sharon L. Sherman, ASID, NCIDQ, CID, CKD
Sharon is the founder of Thyme and Place Design, headquartered in Wyckoff, New Jersey. She’s been practicing kitchen and bath design for the past 40 years and is a Past President of the American Society of Interior Designers – New Jersey chapter. She is a current member of the editorial board of KB&B Magazine, the official magazine of the National Kitchen and Bath Association.
Her award-winning designs and editorial comments have been featured in Forbes, The New York Times, Design Milk, Bergen NJ magazine, Kitchen & Bath Design News, Woman’s Day, Country Decorating, Design NJ, New Jersey Home Magazine, 201 Magazine, The Best of Bergen, Savvy Living, The Vue, The Record, The Star-Ledger, and Aspire as well as several books.
Her blog “Tips from the Trade” appears in digital form on DesignNJ.com and KBBonline.com. She has also appeared on HGTV’s My Big Amazing Renovation and episodes of House Smarts with Lou Manfredini. In 2022, she was a featured *Voices From The Industry* speaker at the National Kitchen and Bath Association’s international convention and is available for further speaking engagements nationwide on all topics related to running a successful kitchen and bath design business.
I really loved the story you told in this post and how you were able to help your client see the possibilities in her space.
And how you ever saw through all the clutter to the final result is beyond me! I could never have visualized the final result like you did at the beginning of the project.
Congratulations on a gorgeous transformation for your client.
What a fabulous transformation, Sharon! And so perfectly suited to all your client’s needs! Brava!!