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Sarah Richardson's basement redesign (Stacey Brandford photography)
Sarah Richardson's basement redesign (Stacey Brandford photography)

Living spaces

In the basement, start clean, add imagination Add to ...

Have you got a finished, high and dry basement in your home? If the answer is yes, then I think you need to maximize the potential that lies beneath ground level and elevate the décor and fittings to create an area that is as every bit as appealing as your main ground floor rooms. After all, a basement is essentially free space. It's not counted in the square footage of your house, or the price per square foot you paid to buy your home. If it didn't' cost anything to get the room, and it doesn't up your property tax bracket by adding to overall size of the house, doesn't it just make sense to spend a couple bucks to make it more than a catch-all for chaos and clutter, and let it become a valuable and attractive bonus space for hanging out?

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Categorize your needs

When you've got a single, open-room finished lower level that needs to serve many purposes from storage to play space, the key is compartmentalization. The first step to conquering clutter and getting a grasp on organizing your life and all the trappings that accompany it is making a concise list of what you need to store and how you want to use each area. Think about breaking your room into blocks or zones and then think about which ones can be grouped together and which need to be kept separate. Being honest about how much junk you have and how much dedicated storage space you require will be very helpful in the long run (too much storage and you're wasting the opportunity to make good use of it, and too little leaves you back in the clutter conundrum). If you've got gear, tools, and the stuff of everyday life, which is bulky and unattractive, you may just want to put up a wall and create a much-needed, dedicated storage room. I know that the vast open space you achieved when you bought your home was appealing, but sometimes you need to put up walls to get a handle on the mess.

Strip it bare

You might think you can simply shift your belongings from one end of the room to the other while you work around a central pile. You may think this is easier and more cost effective. I am the voice of reason whose job it is to tell you that you are mistaken. I've always been opposed to the "live through it/work around it" style of renovating, and feel that a blank slate is the best way to move forward. if you plan to lay carpet, do drywall work, install cabinetry, or even paint, it will be far more efficient for all the workers if there's a free and unencumbered room to work in. If you force yourself to remove everything from the room, and re-examine it's utility and importance to your life before reintroducing it to the new room, I can guarantee it will be an effective and liberating purge. Not only does stripping the space afford the opportunity to edit your accumulations, but it also prevents your worldly goods from being damaged by construction and covered in dust. I've always said that preparation is the key to success in any reno/décor project.

Imagine it

Before you decide how the room will be decorated, imagine yourself in it, and paint a picture of when and how you will live in your new space. Is it a daytime room that needs to be bright and airy, and feel like it's above ground, or is it more of an evening cave for cocooning and chilling and watching TV and movies? Deciding time of day usage is very helpful in establishing the mood and colour scheme of your new space since you likely won't be happy in a daytime lounge dressed in dark shades or a night-time hangout that is too bright and light. Yes, it's below grade and doesn't get much natural light, but if you'll never be down there while the sun is shining, why not embrace the cave aesthetic and cozy it up?

Stick to solids

When looking for a coffee table that will stand up to the rigours of a playroom cum family media centre, be realistic about the wear and tear it will need to sustain. If you imagine Tonka trucks by day and feet up comfort at night, I suggest that you choose furnishings that are up for the task. A solid-wood construction table with a slightly distressed, hand-planed top will hide the inevitable dings and dents from the kids' toys, and develop an appropriately rustic "patina" as the years go by. Veneers and shiny surfaces will just look tattered and scrappy too soon, so give them a pass and look for solids wherever you can.

Belittle the bulkhead

No one likes the look of bulkheads and dropped ceilings, but they are a foregone conclusion in any finished basement. While I don't love to see a variety of ceiling heights, I do like to embrace the maximum height available wherever possible, and that means bulkheads are unavoidable. When it comes to painting, I would recommend doing whatever is possible to minimize their existence, and that agenda is best served by wrapping the wall colour right up and over the bulkheads and ceiling. If this means the walls are treated to a light, neutral tone over all, there's still plenty of opportunity to introduce bold colour, dramatic pattern and fun accents to the room with fabrics and accessories.

And a few more 101 lessons:

The save

I admit the whole garbage-picking adventure has lost some of its lustre since the bed-bug infestation happened last fall, but I still maintain that you can't judge upholstered furniture on its current covering. If you can coerce yourself to look beyond dirt and disastrously dated fabrics, you might be able to score the ultimate bargain and pick up some curbside treasures in your travels that are ripe for re-imagination. Once stripped to the frame and redressed in a snappy, red, painterly patterned fabric, my freebie chair added extra seating to the room at a bargain price!

The splurge

If you want to achieve a state of clutter-free nirvana, you'll have to pay the price and pony up for some practical storage solutions. Pieced together bits and bobs just won't cut it and can't allow you to maximize the vertical space to its optimal efficiency. I'm a big fan of mixed-use storage that combines cabinets, shelves, and drawers so that all manner of goods can be put in the place where they are most easily organized and accessed. So far, the best solution I've found is kitchen cabinetry. I love the flexibility it offers in combining varying widths and depths of components to make maximum use of every available inch. A pantry here, a bank of 24-inch deep drawers there, and some shallow upper cabinets to top it off, and you've got a spot to stash anything and everything!

The signature Sarah

Even practical rooms for child's play and family lounging need a touch of whimsy, and what better way to bring it home than through the creative use of fabric. While installing walls in one area may be the best solution for stashing behind closed doors, and cabinetry will enable masterful organization in another, it's the use of fabric that brings out the fun side of play in an inexpensive way. If you hang a curtain from wall to wall, suspended from the ceiling, you can create quick-draw closure on kids' mess, and offer a performance theatre space at the same time. Simply hand the rod so it stretches from wall to wall and select a dynamic pattern that adds a lighthearted touch to your décor palette!

Sarah Richardson hosts Sarah 101, airing Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on HGTV. sarahrichardsondesign.com; http://www.hgtv.ca/sarah101

SOURCES

Storage cabinets, sectional sofa, wicker chairs, kids toys, picture frames, clock, wicker laundry bin, red storage boxes, storage shelving & bins - IKEA www.ikea.com

Carpet - Nature's Carpetwww.naturescarpet.com

All fabric - inVU Drapery Company www.invudraperyco.com

Console, TV credenza, coffee table & faux fur blanket -- Urban Barn www.urbanbarn.com

Crystal pendant lights - Lowe's www.lowes.ca

Reupholstery of chair - Silva Custom Furniture www.silvacustom.com

Pair of wood side tables - FOC (furniture on consignment) www.focit.ca

Track lighting - Universal Lighting www.greatlighting.com

Drapery Hardware - Designer Fabrics www.designerfabrics.ca

Custom mats, framing & custom bulletin board - Elgin Picture & Frame www.elginpictureandframe.com

Beanbag & striped canvas bin - Pottery Barn Kidswww.potterybarnkids.com

Lampshades - Pottery Barn www.potterybarn.com

Pillow sewing - Wesley Seto Design Inc.416.538.3223

Window blinds - Blinds to Go www.blindstogo.com

Red round woven baskets & round wicker balls - West Elm www.westelm.com

Cabinetry hardware - Lee Valley Tools Ltd. www.leevalley.com

Red glass accessories - Homesense www.homesense.ca

Paint Colours - Para Paint www.para.com sarahpaint.com

Walls & ceiling - Pearl SR30 (P5226-24)

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