When you have an unfinished basement it is difficult to find a way to get function out of the space. What most commonly happens is that people just ignore the room. Occasionally it may be used for a kind of storage space that is just one intermediary step between useless novelties and the trash heap, but otherwise, people just don’t think about it.
But it is quite a shame. The basement is a huge space, generally spanning the entire length and width of the house. It also has a number of unique features which set it apart from other rooms within a home, including the fact that it can be very isolated.
Recessed in the ground the room is a flight of stairs away from daily activity, which takes it out of the natural flow of a house. It also has natural noise proofing on most of its wall space which can further enhance the privacy and solitude of the area. Add in the fact that windows are usually set high in the walls, and receive only cursory sunlight or notice from the outside world, and your basement can be the ideal intimate retreat.
Basements also have other factors going for them, such as the fact that they generally have very steady temperatures. This is due to both the fact that the room is insulated by earth on all four sides, and the fact that the windows don’t transmit much sun energy into the room.
These features of privacy, and stability, combined with the shear size of the space, means that failing to use your basement is robbing your home of one of its most unique characteristics. In the basement, you have a free reign to create any space you can imagine, and it will be naturally resistant to forces of chaos such as messes, breakage, and casual observation, that other spaces are more prone to.
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The biggest barriers to getting use out of an unfinished basement are the various health concerns which can arise. Problems such as mold, allergens, and vermin, can make the space practically useless for human habitation. However, boarding up the doors on your basement is not a solution, because those problems can seep up into the rest of your home. Mold can float through the floor and create allergy and medical concerns, insects and vermin tend to spread out, and water damage can destroy the foundation of the entire house. That’s why if you have a health concern in your basement you should go ahead and get it taken care of anyways, before it starts to infringe on the rest of your life.
***** WARNING *****
Unfinished Basement Decorating Principles
Once you have addressed health concerns, the next step is to make the space habitable, and comfortable.
The first and most important thing that you have to do is clean. The basement has a stigma of being dark, nasty, and dirty. It makes people think of medieval prison cells, or a nasty cave. The only way to combat this is to scrub the dirt spotless, and ensure that the space is 100% sanitary, and safe.
The first problem you may encounter on this endeavor is the water table. If you live in a high rain, or high water table area, such as near a beach, your basement may be prone to floods. If this is true there isn’t much that you can do to keep the area spotless, because floods are messy affairs. All you can really do is try to minimize the damage, by purchasing high quality sub pumps, and flood detectors, and using them to combat water flow. You can also use water proof paint on the walls and floors of the space to help seal it to some extent against water.
Another major problem that you may encounter is in the image which is presented by the bare, unfinished walls of the space itself. Perhaps you have old stained concrete walls, or unattractive hardwood beams criss-crossing the ceiling. And what do you do about that bare slab floor?
While these issues may not actually signal a dirty or germ ridden environment, they do suggest one, which will make the space inherently uncomfortable. The solution however is fairly simple, just use light, shadow, and cover, to hide some features, and emphasize others. In this way you can use strategic design to convert dilapidated ambiance, into a rustic outpost, or a gritty home bar, or a laid back escape.
Lighting An Unfinished Basement
One of the great things about basements is that they are stuck deep in the ground, and if they do have windows, they are usually small, and set high up in the wall, where they can’t receive much direct sunlight.
This may sound like a problem, but it is actually an opportunity. Because the space is so dark, you can completely control the illumination pattern within it. This means that you can plan out and control exactly what a person walking into the room will be able to see.
If you take a room that is totally dark, and then start adding light fixtures into it, it is almost like starting with a blank canvas, and suddenly illuminating more and more of the picture. You can put the light anywhere, emphasize any feature, or cast shadow on any blemish.
Starting off you will have a dark room with one light in it. This light will be an orb of illumination, creating a circle within the space where you can see. Wherever this circle is, that is where the room is, and the shadows beyond it almost constitute walls.
This effect is much more dramatic with some fixtures than others. A simple, uncovered, overhead bulb will pretty much light up everything. However a billiard light, or even a simple lamp with a shade, will provide just enough direct illumination that you will be able to control where the inevitable shadows will fall.
If you want to be even more precise, novelty lights provide a number of different options for coloring the space. String lights, run along the floor in a path like pattern can create a implicit hallway, or even frame out a room, if it is dark enough. Christmas lights can be hung in heavy patterns across the ceiling, or throughout an accent wall. The colored lights will hide whatever they are hung on, while the white ones will emphasize it. Lava lamps and other decorative centerpieces can also have an interesting effect when isolated in a dark space.
Ambiant lights such as mood fixtures are also useful for creating just the right ambiance in your basement. They can provide a soft, low level of light, which is just bright enough to see by, but not strong enough to really show off the room in detail. These can be used to create effective intimate spaces.
Hiding Unsavory Basement Elements
Sometimes the best way to hide unattractive features is to simply cover them up. Stained walls can be covered with murals, or long strong pieces of patterned material. Heavy duty or outdoor rugs are particularly effective, as they can usually be hung in patterns against one another, and they will be resistant to any natural problems which may arise in the space, such as floods. Similarly, outdoor carpeting or water resistant rugs can be used to cover and line the flooring of the space.
Painting a Basement
A little paint can go a long way in an unfinished basement. It can serve both to hide some of the born in elements of the space, and to enhance the room with color and life.
The use of an accent wall is particularly effective in this space. One bright or interestingly colored wall can draw the eye and the attention of the entire room, giving it a positive focus and de-emphasizing many of the negative features you might otherwise be drawn to notice.
When painting a basement floor or walls, it is important that you properly prepare the surface to take the paint. Things such as washing the area thoroughly and using a safely administered acid wash treatment can go a long way to ensuring that the final job looks good. Be sure to use extreme caution whenever working with acidic washes or chemicals.
One of the best ways to give purpose and direction to a space is to give it a theme. This will define the area, and give you an intrinsic plan for its development.
One of the most common uses for a basement is as a private, adults only bar and lounge. As mentioned before the basement is fairly isolated. With only one entrance at the top of the stairs, it is fairly easy to control access to it. This can make it the ideal place to engage in activities which are, socially, legally, and morally permitted, but which may not be a good influence on the kids. In this way you can still enjoy an occasional cocktail, without making it a public spectacle that will influence your children’s decisions about drinking in the future. You also send a clear message about drinking, in that it is not acceptable anywhere and anyway you like, but should be done in a controlled environment, where it is meant to be enjoyed.
Another great thing about a basement bar is that it is so easy to develop a gritty, bar fly or rustic tavern décor down there. In such a scheme, the negative aspects of dark and unsavory elements can actually contribute to the effect you are trying to achieve. Items such as novelty neon signs, overhead billiard lights, and bar kitsch can complete the effect.
Basement Wine Cellars
A wine cellar is another common use for the basement. Again, it is isolated, so you can easily keep curious youngsters out, but the space is also temperature controlled. The earth ground insulation that surrounds the space keeps it cool in the summer and warm in the winter. This will act as insurance against wild temperature fluctuations having an adverse effect on your prized wine collection.
The fact that the space is dark will also help, as sunlight and ultraviolet rays can have a negative effect on the taste of certain wines. Artificial light doesn’t seem to have nearly the same effect, and so even a well lit basement will be a good shelter for a wine collection.
Whether your passion is toy trains, scale models, or light woodworking, there is a place for you in the basement.
Please note that there are certain safety concerns that must be address for any hobby before undertaking them in a basement. This can include things like getting proper ventilation when working with chemicals and adhesives. Another major concern is that you have plenty of light and plenty of space to work in, so that you don’t cause unintentional harm to yourself. You should also be certain of all of the electrical wiring in the space before hooking up power tools.
However, when you have the safety concerns out of the way, you may actually have a really nice space to pursue your personal passions. Basements are usually large with lots of storage for tools and kits. They are also isolated, allowing for optimal concentration. Another good thing is that since the basement is not in the natural flow of the house, people won’t be constantly bumping into your projects, taking your tools, and moving things around. In general people will be reluctant to go down at all, since it is an out of the way space, leaving your haven safe for your own pursuits.
The basement may seem like the last place that you would want to be romantic or intimate. However, it is isolated and out of the way, which means that you are more likely to be left alone down there. It is also dark, which means you can control whether the lighting is bright, or soft and sultry. Here is where novelty lighting is especially effective. Lava lamps, mood lights, ambient fixtures, and even Christmas lights can all serve to create a festive and exciting ambiance, while hiding any features that may be beyond the shadow.
Adding touches such as comfortable seating, soft pillows, warm rugs, and attractive art pieces throughout will definitely work to increase the intimacy and romance of the space. An electric stove or fireplace can be a huge piece of this puzzle. The raw, primitive power of fire, the heat, the sound of the flames, it will all serve to call up primal instincts that will override, or even revel in any rustic elements that may surround you.
As always, take care when using any fire producing or electric device in a basement, and be especially sure to secure it against flood damage.
Rustic Basement Decorating
One of the main ideas that have been batted around in this article is the usage of rustic elements in the basement to elevate the ambiance of the space. The idea is that chaos can have as much beauty as order, depending on how it is used. The chaos of nature, of life, of the world, is a beautiful tapestry of seemingly random patterns.
The easiest way to tap into this effect is to use natural materials everywhere. Natural stone clocks, coasters, and chess sets, hardwood and distressed wood dressers, furnishings, and tables, and the use of straw, thatch, hemp, or any other natural product in carpets, rugs, and curtains, can all add a natural elements that will give life to what might otherwise have been a decayed setting.
In a way you are going with the idea of the basement being a cave, and rather than running from it you are actually indulging it, to the point that you want the very best and most attractive cave that you could possibly have.