Basements are big now. Once largely the domain of the laundry equipment and furnace, with the occasional wood-paneled rec room, basements today are becoming spaces that continue the themes and home decor of the rest of the house.
Interior designers report that more and more people are turning their underground spaces into living quarters, whether family rooms, media rooms or even bedrooms, that fit with the level of decor upstairs.
"I'm actually looking at quite a few basements right now," says Bridget Galvin of Bridget Galvin Design in Chicago.
Chicago designer Sally Anne Rose of Not Vanilla Interiors reports that her basement business is up, too.
Rose speculates that the moribund economy and sluggish housing market are driving the interest in upgrading basements. Rather than moving into a bigger house, she says, homeowners are expanding farther into the space they have.
Obviously, you need flooring and wall treatments and ceilings and other remodeling to turn a typical concrete-walled, pipe-crossed cellar into a warm and cozy place. Of course, you need furniture.
What comes next in home décor?
"It's all those extras, what people call the finishing touches , are where you can get the biggest bang for your buck," Rose says.
"It's how the items fit in the space rather than how much money you spend," she explains, saying she sometimes picks up items for million-dollar homes from discounters and department stores.
"Basements can be cold feeling," Rose says. So cozy accessories like throws and rugs can help warm it up.
"Area rugs are huge," she says, noting that basement floors are often best left uncarpeted. Hard flooring such as tile or vinyl or even well-polyurethaned wood floors can handle the occasional water problem better than wall-to-wall carpets. Use area rugs (which can be sent out for cleaning if they get wet) to soften and warm the floors.
Rugs also can divide up large basement spaces into different "rooms," if your remodel didn't include interior walls. "Depending on the size of the space, you might want to divide it into zones," Galvin says, perhaps floating a sofa in the center of a room with a console table and a lamp behind it.
Home décor lighting tips
Galvin adds warmth and makes downstairs rooms seem more like above ground spaces by hiding typically small, high basement windows under floor-to-ceiling curtains and draperies. "That makes it more like the rest of the house.”
Light is critical to making basements livable, both designers say. "Basements tend to be low, dark spaces," Galvin says. The designers recommend lots of table and floor lamps, which tend to cast a warmer light than ceiling fixtures. "They create different layers of light," says Rose.
"Lots of well-placed lamps and lighting," agrees Galvin. "Light is really essential."
She also suggests adding mirrors to further expand the space as well as reflect light. "They don't have to be at face level," she says.
Color is important when choosing home décor
Color helps brighten the sometimes oppressive underground areas, especially when ceilings are low. "You definitely don't want to do anything too dark," says Rose, who advises sticking to warmer shades.
Galvin's favorite color palette for basements is light, as well, typically a neutral, monochromatic color scheme matching walls and furnishings, punctuated by spots of bright color from the accessories such as throws, pillows, rugs, etc. "It creates a feeling of expansiveness," she says. A lighter ceiling and dark floor can also create the illusion of height.
On the other hand, she says, you can sometimes create a warm space by reversing those color choice, with dark or deep-toned walls and furniture and light, bright accents. "It can be cozy and enveloping," Galvin says.
That style works best in a smaller area, Rose says. "I wouldn't recommend it all over."
Finally, "add a personal touch," Rose advises, with "the little knickknacks that personalize the space." Put up framed photographs and wall decor, items that project off the walls, and display photo albums and figurines, just as you would upstairs.