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Inspiring Ideas to Transform Your Basement

Maybe you have it all mapped out: a home gym over here and a game area over there. You’re ready to make your home’s catch-all space, otherwise known as your basement, a comfortable living area to enjoy with family and friends. If you want to take full advantage of the extra square footage down below, here are some ideas to get started. 

Well worth it 
When we start to outgrow our home, the first thing we may consider is an addition. But this can be expensive, lengthy and cause us to sacrifice a large part of our yard. A basement remodel can be an affordable way to make the most of existing space. 

A 2022 Remodeling Impact Report from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI), estimated ROI for finishing a basement is 86 percent of the project cost. 

Refinishing a basement was identified by Houzz as one of the top emerging trends in home improvement, based on data from the online searches of homeowners, contractors and designers in its summer 2023 report. “Online searches for ‘finishing a basement’ have increased significantly over the past year as more homeowners look to turn their large, open spaces into a family or recreation room,” it reads. 

Basement remodels ranked higher than seven other projects, including kitchen and bathroom renovations. Searches were up by more than 100 percent for “basement movie theater,” more than 500 percent for “basement rec room,” and nearly 800 percent for “basement family room.” 

First things first 
Before you start, you’ll want to tackle any water issues, correct humidity levels and conduct radon testing. If you’ve ever had water in your basement, you will want to call a local foundation expert to assess the problem and get long-term solutions. There’s nothing worse than laying a new floor and finding puddles the day after a big storm. Make sure you have a secure gutter system that you can keep clean year-round and proper drains that take rainwater away from the house. Basement waterproofing experts always suggest running a dehumidifier to automatically keep humidity levels steady and prevent mold, mildew and that musty basement smell. There are many energy-efficient models that can be connected with a sump pump system or its own drain system so you don’t have to manually dump out the water every day. The Virginia Department of Health recommends you conduct radon testing on “every section of the home that is in contact with the ground.” (The highest radon levels are typically found in the lowest livable space of a structure.) The department regularly offers discount radon test kits, but area professionals can do this for a cost of $100-$200. 

Imagine the possibilities
Want to build out your basement to its potential? Try these ideas and tips:

FAMILY TIME: Turn your basement into a true family room, a place to watch TV and play games. Sectionals work great, with plenty of space for everyone to lounge. Add a kitchenette (or even just a mini fridge, freestanding cabinet or cart) for quick snacks.

  • Tip: Install recessed lighting to give the illusion of higher ceilings. If you don’t have any windows or if your basement isn’t a walk-out, keep the palette white and bright to make up for the lack of natural light.

WORKOUT AREA: You don’t need a lot of equipment to create a home gym — at least one cardio machine (a treadmill or stationary bike), a set of dumbbells and a yoga mat. Flooring is important; foam tiles or rubber mats are fairly inexpensive and can be placed right over concrete.

  • Tips: Use hooks for towels and install sturdy shelves for equipment and even a special holder for your water bottle. A regular pegboard can provide a place for exercise bands, jump ropes and yoga mats. Add floor-to-ceiling mirrors for an upscale look, to help you better gauge your progress and to give the illusion of a larger workout space.

HOME OFFICE: Many people build a home office in the basement for more privacy and less noise. The area under your stairwell could be the perfect office nook or at least provide storage space for books and supplies. 

  • Tip: Use a combination of task lighting and ambient lighting to make a comfortable working environment.

FOR THE KIDS: Add plenty of shelves and bins. Keep it colorful. Use bright colors on the walls, add a mural and use a fun kids’ rug or colored foam floor tiles.

  • Tips: For those mandatory quiet times, incorporate a reading nook (under the stairwell could be the perfect hideaway). If you have the clearance overhead, you can add a small indoor gym center (search “kids indoor gym” online for ideas), a welcome attraction on rainy days.

SWEET SUITE: If you have the space, you could convert your basement into a studio apartment to rent out or to use for family members, perhaps a grown child who is trying to save some money or aging parents who need assistance. If you have an easily accessible walk-out basement, remodeling a space for them could save you money and keep them close by.

  • Tips: Reconfigure the space and add walls or room dividers to make a bedroom, kitchen or living area. Check with local building codes for basement bedrooms (many areas call for two egresses with a door or window to the outside).

Lynchburg homeowners Jennifer and Dallas Moss call themselves “the entertainers” of their friend group. Hardly any holiday goes by without the couple opening their doors to guests. 

“We’re known for our annual Halloween party, but we’ll have parties throughout the year, for the Kentucky Derby, to Cinco de Mayo — any holiday or party we will celebrate,” Jennifer says. 

So it was no surprise when they started remodeling their basement for entertainment. They started the project in 2020 “as a product of circumstances,” Jennifer says. 

“It was going to be our year of travel. We had saved up, then COVID hit, and we realized we weren’t going anywhere.” 

Like many people during the pandemic, the more the Mosses stayed home, the more they got the itch to start a DIY project. 

“We thought we could really maximize the square footage of our house and revamp our entire basement,” Jennifer says. 

After three months of construction and another couple months decorating, the result was a large bar and lounge area inspired by some of their favorite hotspots on previous travels. 

From a backlit canvas of palm trees to a 1970s-era tulip chair to bold wallpaper with larger-than-life ferns, the Mosses have created a unique space with plenty of conversation pieces. They worked with a local upholsterer to breathe new life into thrift store finds. 

“We picked funky kind of furniture that’s a little eccentric,” Jennifer says. “We were scared to go bold upstairs, but we thought, ‘It’s a basement, we can make it what we want.’” 

They made the bar themselves, covering it in single wood slats. They ordered custom granite countertops in a leathered cut and installed a mirror wall with glass shelves and gold shelf supports for the back bar. 

A nearby game closet was turned into a wine cave where Jennifer, a former bartender, displays some glass heirlooms from her family. 

The Mosses even chose a name for their home venue. “Beatniks” shines in neon on their bar. Dallas chose the name, as he is a fan of the Beat movement and the Beat poets — he’d choose it for a bar if he ever opened one. 

It was also Dallas’ vision to create the right atmosphere from the top down. On the ceiling, they installed striking faux tin tile. 

“Most of the bars you go to have a cozy but big-city feel, and we felt like we needed that,” he says. “Most have a ceiling like that. It’s what a lot of our guests see immediately when they visit.” 

He applauds his wife for adding all the special touches that have turned their basement into what she describes on their Instagram account (Beatniks_basement bar) as “Disco dreams + retro speakeasy + Palm Springs style basement bar.” 

They noticed how the right lighting makes a real difference. “A good tip is having a brighter light for games but being able to transition to really low bar lighting to create the ambiance you want,” Jennifer says. Their eclectic mood lamps and overhead lights blend right in with the style of the room. 

Dallas, a home inspector by day, says they tackled any potential problem areas before they began any major work. They resealed the foundation in one area, regraded outside and added an awning for further waterproofing. He also suggests running a dehumidifier all the time. 

They did much of the work themselves, calling in professionals when it came to painting and electrical, and ordering local, like the glass, mirrors and countertops. 

“It was easy to find local people to do all the custom things we ended up needing to make it all work.” 

They plan on remodeling a basement bathroom and laundry area next but for now are glad to have a space they can enjoy in the company of friends. 

“People are blown away; we get great reactions,” Jennifer says. “People like to swing by, and we’re happy to show it off.”

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