Home Decorating Designers on Bright Ideas for Basements

Designers on Bright Ideas for Basements

Tips from the pros — fresh off their own basement makeovers – for how to reclaim that subterranean space in stunningly stylish ways!
With all these months spent at home, many of us are looking to use every inch of our homes, including formerly unloved spaces like basements, garages, and attics. The basement presents a particular design challenge with its lack of daylight and often utilitarian features. So we called on three of our favorite designers to get their tips and tricks for designing a basement room you’ll actually want to spend time in.

“When the pandemic hit, we, like so many, were forced to work from home or study from home, and I quickly realized I needed to carve out a workspace somewhere,” says Lea Johnson, the stylist behind Creekwood Hill in Minneapolis, who recently made over her basement into a stylish work area. Lea started with a room that was already finished with east-facing windows that give her basement an unusual amount of daylight, then she layered in new and vintage finds to create an inspiring space. Here are her tips for making your basement into a happy work-from-home spot:

Amp up the brightness

Lea upped the brightness in her basement by painting all the walls in a true white (PPG’s ‘Timeless’) that reflects the light around the space. “A fresh coat of paint can go a long way,” she says. A cream-colored wool rug also helps brighten the space.

Add softness

“Basements tend to feel hard enough, so find ways to soften them,” says Lea. She recommends adding layers of textiles: “Rugs you want to sink your toes into, pillows to help bring color and personality into the space, and cozy throw blankets.” Lea opted for our Speck Black Hand Knotted Wool Rug because of its cozy texture, but also because “the black specks in the added the perfect graphic element without being overwhelming; it was exactly what I was looking for to give personality to the room and floor.” Her final layer of softness: Sheepskin throws. “I would drape a sheepskin on every chair in my house if I could,” she laughs.
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Fake a view

No windows or small windows? “Search for unique or architectural mirrors that can double as an added layer of texture or dimension,” says Lea. And add art to provide a different type of view. “Art adds so much to look at and helps the space feel lived in,” she says.

Get the lighting right

“Have fun with lighting: Great lighting can really elevate a room,” says Lea, who says she loves sculptural lighting. “In a basement, remember to keep in mind you need task lighting, ambient lighting, and accent lighting.

When Sarah Gibson, founder of Room for Tuesday, made over her basement last year, she was hoping to make the personality-less space into something that suited her style until the time comes for a full renovation. “Eventually, we’d like to demo the walls, shift around the layout, and really transform the space architecturally,” says Sarah, but until then, she relied on quick changes that completely transformed the space, including a moody paint job and a cozy rug to cover the wall-to-wall. Here are her lessons for redecorating your own basement:

Go bold

“Basements or other smaller spaces with lower ceilings are the perfect place to make a statement,” says Sarah. “Don’t be afraid to go bold!” In Sarah’s case, this meant a deep navy paint job (Naval by Sherwin-Williams), but you might take an opportunity to try a wild wallpaper or a brightly-colored rug.

Embrace the darkness

“The space has minimal natural light, low ceilings, and a cold feeling,” says Sarah. “Instead of trying to make it appear something it was not, I opted to embrace those features. Using a dark color makes the space feel cozy (perfect for watching movies and snuggling in) and provides high contrast that disguises the ceiling height and lack of light. It also gave me the opportunity to insert plenty of luxe textures, like rugs, throw pillows, and blankets.”
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Create a vibe with your rug

“We have carpet throughout our basement, and it’s not my favorite. I knew I wanted to layer on a rug that felt more cohesive with my personal aesthetic,” says Sarah. Our Numa Charcoal Hand Knotted Rug was the perfect solution because it looked nice against the wall-to-wall while harmonizing with the rest of Sarah’s design (and is versatile enough to be used later after the full renovation, no matter where she goes stylistically). “I love the contrast between the navy paint color and lighter area rug and sofa,” she adds.

When Connecticut-based designer Denise Enright designed an entire home for This Old House magazine earlier this year she inadvertently played into the 2020 trend of people using basements for “me time.” The showhouse was designed to cater to youthful homeowners intending to use the home’s basement and garage as his and hers workspaces. Here are Denise’s tips for creating a “she shed”-like basement space:

Choose a cheerful palette

The palette of apple green and pinks give the basement a decidedly cheerful vibe that goes a long way to make up for the reduced amount of daylight. In fact, the basement was the most colorful room Enright designed in This Old House’s 2020 Show Home.

Add personality with art

“Amazing artwork can transform a space,” says Denise. In this basement, a print of a vintage Cadillac and the framed vintage bathing suits make the room. “The fun, large-scale art really creates the she shed vibe in this somewhat boring basement,” says Enright. “I displayed the abstract piece on an easel to give the suggestion of creative work happening down there.”

Divvy up the floor plan

Enright notes that basements are often wide open spaces, so you can use decorator tricks to create rooms within them. “In that space, I used two pink handwoven wool rugs to create our different areas. Then I placed the furniture accordingly to further define the separate zones.” She notes that floating the desk away from the wall also helped make the office a more interesting space. Finally, the apple green accent wall (Green Umber (CW-460) by Benjamin Moore) helped bring the wall in visually. “The room was such a big square box, with no architecture, but the accent wall helped make the space more intimate,” she says.

You would never guess this gorgeous space was a basement. “We built the home almost three years ago and didn’t finish the basement until about a year ago,” says Mollie Openshaw of Design Loves Details. “Since we built the home, I had chosen the windows and everything for the basement: It was a raw space ready to be finished.” The floor-to-ceiling renovation  transformed the space into a true extension of the rest of her Utah home—complete with a kitchen, living room, dining space, media center, and more. Mollie shares her tips for a full-scale basement renovation:

Aim for open spaces

“I like to keep basement spaces open with as few walls as possible, so that the rooms don’t feel closed in,” says Mollie. Instead, Mollie likes to designate zones with rugs and furniture placement. “Even though the majority of this basement is one open space, there’s a clearly defined living room space, dining area, and kitchen that all interact well together, but have separation with how the furniture is arranged. The Annie Selke rug was the perfect way to outline where the living room area would be!”

For paint, think light, bright and uniform

In basements, Mollie recommends fresh, bright tones for the walls, trim, furnishings, and rugs. “Paint colors can play a role in creating a bright, fresh space,” says Mollie. “When the ceiling and walls are the same color (or very similar colors), your eye moves seamlessly through the space and it feels larger because you don’t notice where the walls end and the ceiling begins.” She used Benjamin Moore’s classic “White Dove” in an eggshell finish for both the walls and ceiling.

Windows make a world of difference

When a project is new construction, like this basement, Mollie opts for larger windows to allow in as much light as possible. “Even when basements are fully underground, like mine is, the size of windows can have a big impact on how the overall space feels.” If you’re working with an existing basement with skimpy windows, it is possible to enlarge them. Many homeowners choose to add an egress window that lets in light, air, and a means of egress in an emergency.

For more inspiration, see:

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1 comment

Alycia Nichols January 25, 2021 at 12:51 pm

We are working on “fixing” our basement area after a flood rendered it soggy and unusable. We’ve had luxury vinyl planks (LVP) installed that simulate wood (not our first choose, but better able to snap back should a future breach occur), and are having the trim, doors, and walls painted before deciding on replacement furniture pieces. This blog article has given me some excellent ideas on how to proceed! Following you on Instagram! Have a good week and stay safe!


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