Before & after: My basement, unveiled
Turning desolation into something endlessly useful.
This week’s newsletter is my grand basement remodel reveal. I’m really proud of this project, which I designed and oversaw on my own (my first time!) over the past year. I’m sharing this both because it’s been a big part of my life recently, and also to inspire others to look at their unused spaces differently. There is opportunity in what is often dismissed as unusable.
Four years ago I become a basement haver for the first time. I grew up in New Mexico then California, where basements aren’t really a thing. So this was a new experience for me.
My husband and I moved into this house, and immediately the basement filled with items that didn’t work in our living space or we didn’t know what to do with. This struck me as insane. It struck him as what basements are for (a more common response).
I bristled at the idea of paying for square footage used exclusively by dubious items I wasn’t sure I even wanted. As the years went on, I just couldn’t shake the idea that we were squandering an opportunity.
Here’s what ultimately convinced us to tackle a remodel:
Our basement wasn’t aligned with our values. Being fit (working out) and hosting friends and family from out of town are top priorities — but we didn’t make space for either in our house.
When we really looked at what was in our basement, we had to admit we didn’t need most of it. I initiated a huge purge a few months before the remodel to prove to ourselves we could live with less (which resulted in my decluttering series in this newsletter). Painful but necessary! …And secretly thrilling for me because I am who I am.
Finished square footage adds to a home’s market value. I felt confident this remodel would be “free” in the sense that we would get back the cost of the remodel as equity in the house. We just needed to pull together the funds up front. Luckily I had opened a line of credit back when interest rates were crazy low and before I left my job — thank you, Past Me!
Our ceilings are low (6’8”, the legal minimum) so I knew the basement would never be a showpiece. I needed to keep this remodel simple and low cost, but still honor the beauty of the Victorian space upstairs.
I spent lots of time in the basement thinking through floorpans and touring open houses with finished basements I found on Redfin. To keep costs down I knew we’d need to keep the furnace, walls, and plumbing where they were.
We luckily already had an exterior entry, which I knew from HGTV was a big money-saver. It was a fun puzzle to work on. Once I had a design sketched out, I hired an architect on the cheap to double check my work and submit basic drawings to the city for permits.
I was lucky to have a fantastic contractor who got it all done in about 3 months, even with lots of pauses to wait for inspections or for the painters to redo the floor because they used the wrong paint (oops!). We were able to live in the house throughout so it wasn’t too disruptive, all things considered.
After learning from this newsletter that most waste in the world is construction related, I did my best to use recycled items and materials wherever possible, including:
All furniture and most light fixtures are second hand
Kitchen tile is leftover from another project, and when we ran out of it (double oops!) we bought some scrap tile from Pratt & Larson’s overstock room
We reused all the doors that were already in the basement, shaving them as needed to fit their new spots.
The bathroom vanity is a vintage dresser
We didn’t use any flooring over the painted cement — just rugs
I harbor no illusions that doing this project helped the environment, but I do think there’s a certain benefit in maximizing space that’s already been built.
Here was the bedroom area before, with my best attempt at creating order while owning simply too many things:
And after, now converted to people storage:
Living room before:
The kitchen came from IKEA. I’d wanted to do the hip plywood handmade kitchen thing, but my decision fatigue by this point required something ready made.
The bathroom features a vintage dresser-turned-vanity (I’d always wanted to do this!). I have a weakness for Art Deco so could not resist this shower tile. Plus, larger tile is cheaper to install:
Entryway with slats to let light in and add visual height with the vertical lines:
There was one room in the basement that had already been finished by the previous owners, and we turned this from a storage room into a little home gym:
Here’s the full layout if you’re curious. I used a program called Spoak to overlay my design over the floorpan:
I’m really happy with the outcome. I’d feared that with few windows and low ceilings the space would always feel like a cave, but it actually feels pretty cozy and homey. We’ve already had friends and family visit — it’s such a nice way to spend time with people but also provide them (and us!) with plenty of privacy.
We’ve managed to live several months now with less storage, and it’s been fine. At the start of the project, I did hire a professional organizer to come over for an hour and help me strategize the best ways to use my remaining storage spaces. It was money well spent — outside perspectives are so valuable. (Quick plug for my new House Machine consult service — often an hour is all you need to transform your space.)
If you have any remodel fantasies or questions, share them in the comments. I love hearing about people’s visions!