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Ask Val: Basement Makeover 101

This regularly-scheduled sponsored Q&A column is written by Val Sotillo, Northern Virginia-based Realtor and Falls Church resident. Please submit your questions to her via email for response in future columns. Enjoy!

Question: We’ve owned our home for a couple of years and our partially finished basement is filled with every old and unwanted item in the house from old furniture to memorabilia. Do you have any tips for remodeling our basement and making the most out of that space?

Answer: We are lucky enough to live in an area where basements are a commonly built element of most homes. The basement is a perfect space that can be remodeled and finished so that it not only integrates with the rest of the home, but becomes a valuable asset to the property.

The best way to figure out how to put your finished basement to use is to determine what your home is missing and explore ideas that you often can’t apply to your main living space. A media room, living room, wine cellar, wet bar, gym, office, playroom, man’s cave and guest room are all popular choices for basement spaces.

I spoke with Caroline Goree, a Project Leader with BOWA, a local design build firm that specializes in luxury renovations from kitchens to whole-home remodels. Here are her answers to frequently asked questions about basement projects:

How do you make a basement feel more inviting and connected to the rest of the home?

Nowadays, many clients are trying to integrate their basements with the first floor of the house to create more of a “lower level” rather than dark, cold, “cellar” feeling.

In the past, the entrance and stairwell to the basement were narrow and dark. Today, we are seeing folks create stairways that are open and inviting, frequently featuring a nice railing or banister for an added touch. Generous lighting is also important in making the lower level feel warm and inviting, and most homeowners find they need significantly more lighting in this area than anywhere else in the home to achieve this objective.

If possible, take advantage of natural light by installing large windows or French doors. Don’t forget to also include ample lighting controls as well. By adding recessed lights throughout and highlighting different spaces with decorative wall sconces, it can completely transform the ambiance of this level.

How should you repurpose the basement to create a more functional space for your family?

Homeowners are much more interested in using the basement in other ways besides storage and laundry (many even requesting to move the laundry up to the main level).

Before diving into a construction project, we encourage our clients to start with an assessment of their needs. If you’ve had any life changing events, such as a new baby or caring for aging parents, you may want to consider a nanny or in-law suite. Just keep in mind there are egress requirements that will need to be met with rooms like these.

Or maybe you are looking to create a space for a hobby or passion? If you’re a wine enthusiast, consider adding anything from a wet bar with a wine refrigerator, to having your own temperature controlled, walk-in wine cellar and tasting room.

How do you create a finished space and still allow for organized storage?

People often underestimate how much “stuff” they actually have (especially when it’s been hidden in the basement for years). Custom built-ins along the basement walls can optimize the storage space you have.

If you’re worried about the clutter on display, add doors to conceal the games, toys, or excessive holiday decorations. If you frequently buy in bulk, also consider adding a pantry in your lower level to store items that may not fit in your kitchen space (after all, we are seeing a trend of open wall shelves in kitchens which eliminates additional storage).

What design details should we considering while renovating the basement?

It is important to use the same architectural details in your basement that you may have throughout your home to make it feel truly finished. Crown molding, substantial basements, wainscoting and bead board ceilings can go a long way in helping make the homeowner forget the space was ever a gloomy basement.

Are there any products that are trending for basements?

Many clients are using a product on the floors called Luxury Vinyl Tile, or LVT for short. This product can be applied to many different sub flooring materials (including concrete), has a thick wear layer on top (think minimal scratching or fading) and is offered in a huge variety of designs to fit most aesthetic goals.

Also, unlike carpet which can become moldy if your basement has a problem with water or a slow leak that goes undetected, LVT is waterproof (it is made of vinyl so water cannot penetrate it) and can be sealed at the edges for even more protection against flooding in the basement.

Thanks Caroline!

If you have any remodeling questions, call BOWA at 703-734-9050 or email [email protected].

If you’d like more information, or would like a question answered in my bi-weekly column, please reach out to [email protected]. I hope to hear from you soon.

Val Sotillo is a licensed Realtor in Virginia, Washington D.C., and Maryland with Real Living At Home, 4040 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite #10C Arlington, VA 22203, 703-390-9460.

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