How to Design an Amazing Basement

Dark Gray Basement Bar and Entertainment Area. Sharon L Sherrman, Thyme & Place Design

What Makes an Awesome Basement Design

Whether partially below ground or fully underground basements are amazing spaces which add additional living and entertainment possibilities. For many homes the basement is a tale of two spaces.  For example, your basement may just be an unfinished area for storage and laundry. Conversely, the other end of the spectrum is where they are simply the stuff of horror movies. You know the scenario, the electric goes in a massive storm out and the breaker box is in the creepy basement.  Let me share some tips on great basement design basics.

What is in your basement?

Just like your yard can be an outdoor oasis in good weather, a well appointed basement can step up when the weather brings us all inside. Well designed basements can wear many hats from functional storage, rooms for mechanicals like the furnace and hot water heater to family friendly entertainment centers, home gyms and workspaces.  With a bit of planning, you can create an amazing multi purpose space in your home without building an addition. I know this sounds like a lot of options. How do you know where to start? Lets begin with some basics.

Structurally speaking

Start by looking at the foundation. Are there cracks in the walls? Look at the wood beams, are there signs of water damage? How about the floor? A sound structure is a requirement for your new basement design. Besides these basics how about the ceiling heights? Most residential building codes say 7 feet is a minimum. It is important to make sure the electric is up to date as well as any possible issues with asbestos which you may find in older homes.  If you have any questions, bring in a professional to help assess the space. Once that is done, you can start to think about how you want to use the space. 

Wish List Time

We have worked on several amazing basement projects. Most clients have asked for a workout space, a quiet home office area, a spot for entertaining and family gatherings once the weather here in the north east starts to chill down. What are the upper floors of the home missing? For example, you would love to have a spot for a arts and crafts room or a putting area for working on your golf game during the off season. Start by writing them all down, you can modify the list as the design takes shape. 

/Wine tasting Cabaret Basement designed by Thyme & Place Design, Creating Thymeless Luxury, Designed by Sharon L Sherman, Kitchen Designer NJ, Bathroom Designer NJ

Casual seating, Hi Top tables and soft sofa seating create zones in this impressive basement remodel

Start by setting some priorities.

Now is the time to bring in the design professional. I cannot stress enough why you should work with a designer. Anyone can frame and sheetrock walls, but determining layouts, best use of space, lighting, furnishings will be best realized with a great designer. In addition to the finishes, they will always add health, safety and welfare considerations to the design process while helping you set design priorities. I am lucky to work with an amazing contractor who brings my visions to life. Our team works to make each project we take to be the best finished space for our clients. 

In the same way, it is important to determine a realistic budget. That will help everyone have the best experience with both the remodel and with the enjoyment of the additional rooms. Most basement spaces will add value to the home. Nationwide surveys show that you can expect a return of 70 cents on the dollar.  A designer will help you spend your money the right way. Not sure where how to find the right professionals? Check my blog Choosing the Right Design Team

Climate Control

You definitely want to be cool in the summer and warm in the winter so heating and cooling systems need to be worked out. If the basement tends to be damp or musty, a dehumidifier should be on the list. We have used some very nice ones which are not big and unsightly. If there is any question about water that needs to be addressed at the start. Waterproofing and vapor barriers are prime players in properly controlling the climate in these spaces.

Materials: Specifically who will be using the space? 

Lets Start with the Flooring. I am a big fan of cork backed vinyl flooring. The new materials available are not your grandmother’s vinyl floors. They are affordable, good looking, kid and pet friendly and are easy to care for. In addition, the cork provides a cushion on a concrete floor and provides some additional insulation. 

Edgewood Wine Tasting Cabaret

Kids gaming area and kitchenette

How About the Furnishings? If you would really love to have family movie night here, then I suggest you invest in comfortable seating covered in a performance fabric. Otherwise, you will always be worried about spills.

Equally important is providing enough seating. Large poufs that can be pulled up for additional guests and coffee table/ottomans work great in basements. If there is enough space, maybe a small kitchenette for popcorn making and storage of serving bowls and platters with a small refrigerator would add to the atmosphere. 

Don’t Forget the Walls!. Depending on use of the rooms, in the higher traffic area, I generally specify a good commercial grade vinyl. This allows for the addition of color and texture without the concern of damaging the walls. The other areas can be finished with a coordinating paint finish. 

Lights Cameras Action

Besides furnishings, lighting and lighting controls must be considered. Can you control the lights from a central system like the TV remote? Once everyone is ready to watch that movie, you will want to be able to dim the lights without getting up. Most basements do not have a lot of natural light coming in so proper lighting is a high priority. 

If the basement has multiple uses, there should be specific lighting for each activities. A workout area needs good light to see the equipment as well as yourself. If you have added a bar area, there should be several layers of light employed with special consideration given to the television area. Structural conditions may impact the type of light fixtures you can use and where they can be placed. I like to use sconces to offset ceiling lights. I also like to use shelves with lighting built right into them. This was once a fairly special application but has become more mainstream.  Just make sure there is enough light to be able to comfortably enjoy a variety of activities. 

Front Bar Feature 1

Sink, Icemaker and Dishwasher drawers need special ejector pumps when installed in a basement

A few final thoughts.

Will you need a bathroom in this new basement? If you are below grade, bathrooms as well as any sinks may need ejector pumps to evacuate water. Consult with your contractor and plumber to make sure these things can be accommodated. If there are windows in your basement, they may need to be egress windows. What is an egress window? It is a code requirement in many areas to provide an exit in case of an emergency. Remember the health, safety and welfare concerns I mentioned earlier? This is one of them. 

Basements have become a hot trend in remodeling this year. They can be an extension of your upstairs living space or provide a spot to have some decorating fun. Always keep in mind that these spaces can transform as your family grows and changes. From kids play area to college grad apartment, basements can fulfill many needs for the family. With some thought and vision you can transform that little used space to an awesome extension of your home. 

Happy Remodeling!


Sharon L Sherman ASID CID CKD is a designer and Reiki Master located in New Jersey. Her award-winning designs and editorial comments have been featured in Woman’s Day, Country Decorating, Design NJ, Family Circle, 201 Magazine, The Best of Bergen, Savvy Living, The Record, The Star Ledger, Bergen Magazine and Aspire as well as several books. Her Blog “Tips for the Trade” has appeared in digital form on She has also appeared on HGTV’s My Big Amazing Renovation and episodes of House Smarts with Lou Manfredini.




Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

remodeling hints


Sharon sherman

My award-winning designs haven been featured in multiple magazines, industry publications and on television. That’s nice affirmation, to be sure.

But perhaps the greatest accolade I’ve received is the repeat engagements with so many clients, project after project, year after year.

Sign up for our


Enter your email below for the latest products and tips.


Fill in your name and email below:

remodeling hints