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A Basement-Turned-Office Reveal (+ 7 Steps For How to Pull Off “Edgy Neutral”)

You might remember this space from our “staging to sell with soul” post from earlier this month where we gave you a sneak peek into a seriously cool house that, along with local staging company The Platform Experiment, Emily and our wonderful style team outfitted to shoot for book #2 and the blog. As it was going up on the market, they had mostly carte blanche to create a “look” with some existing pieces as well as what was brought in specifically for the photoshoot. Owners Amanda and William Hunter (of William Hunter Collective) already had killer style (they gut-renovated and rearranged the whole floor plan of this house and it’s honestly just so good all around), so we used them as the style muse for what was created in the basement-turned studio…what we’re calling “Edgy Neutral.”

So, yes, while this basement space lends SO much character and that “cool” factor you need in Edgy Neutral just by being, well…a basement (the open beamed ceilings, the exposed wires, the rock and cinder block walls, those concrete floors, etc.) it doesn’t mean you can’t follow some of the rules applied here to get a similar (if more refined) look in your non-basement of a home. This here was set up as an office space/studio, but all the principles could easily apply to a living and dining room situation…let’s show you.

1. Keep things crisp with white walls.

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chairs via lulu and georgia | desks via lulu and georgia | pendant lights

Just when we thought we were mostly over white walls (okay, not really)…the key to this look is making sure it feels airy and not too heavy, as a lot of the elements you’ll eventually layer in are. You’ll want to pick out a crisp, neutral white (we love Sherwin-William’s Pure White) so things don’t get either too warm or too cool (but when in doubt, go a touch warm so it doesn’t come off clinical).

2. Amp up the contrast with plenty of black and dark gray.

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This is where things start to go from neutral white shell to pretty rad, high-contrast room. Here, William painted the ceilings a slate-y charcoal gray, which echoes the concrete floors and adds so much dimension to the space. Layering in mid-tones like this is important so the whole room doesn’t end up reading simply like a black-and-white scheme (that’s not the look here, it’s about being well balanced, “cool” but welcoming, minimal but inspired). While I’m not telling you to necessarily paint your own ceiling a dark gray, maybe I am? Painted ceilings have been a big trend in the last two years (though they’ve always been a go-to interior designer trick for adding instant drama to a room), but only really work if you have the (literal) headspace for it.

Let’s say you have 8-foot ceilings; this might be something you skip because adding a darker color up there will just visually lower them even more, but anything 10-feet and above should be just fine. In fact, if you are blessed with very tall ceilings, bringing the color down from the ceiling on the wall about 6 inches (if you don’t have crown molding) will add even more interest.

3. Keep furnishings minimal yet interesting (and when in doubt, choose leather).

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coffee table via article | rug via lulu and georgia | blanket via lost & found (similar) | bench via lulu and georgia

Leather furniture is pretty synonymous with a cool, edgy room, right? (Also, does calling something “cool” automatically make you not cool? Oh well, proud card-carrying member of the nerd-alert club here.) In here, the black sofa, definitely reads more industrial and, dare I say…bachelor pad-y, but in a good way. Like, a now-bachelor who had a previous partner with really good taste that left behind all their stuff in the loft home they once shared. That wood base there also keeps the sofa in solid “eclectic vintage” territory, far away from “corporate office waiting room.”

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All the furnishings in this room, in both the seating and desk areas, are rather simple in shape. Nothing fussy or frilly about them, clean lines, relatively cohesive colors (black, brown, camel) and materials (wood, leather, steel), and that’s what you want to go for. The wood definitely helps things to feel more “lived in,” but we’ll touch more on that in a few points.

4. Layer in streamlined matte black metal accents (and maybe a touch of brass).

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armchair via lulu and georgia | floor lamp via lulu and georgia

Matte black is the name of the game for Edgy Neutral, so let that be the majority of the metal finishes you bring in via accessories, lighting, and even furniture. BUT THEN, so that it doesn’t read “local hipster coffee shop with lots of beanie-above-the-ears-wearing patrons” the key is to break it up a little with a touch of brass. It’ll make things feel more layered and collected but not so much that it comes off too eclectic or luxe. Anything brass should be delicate and streamlined to keep things modern, like the floor lamp (from Lulu and Georgia) and side table in the vignette above. Let’s pretend that coffee table was also brass here…this scene would absolutely read far more glam than we’d want it to for this aesthetic. It’s a subtle balance that requires restraint, but as a good rule of thumb, we’d say not to bring in any more than three or four brighter metallics.

5. Add in organic shapes and woods.

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With all that metal and leather and white and gray, you’re going to need to warm things up a bit so your room doesn’t end up feeling sterile. Here, in the little entry area of the basement studio, the style team brought in a live-edge wood bench (with black steel legs because #edgyneutralstarterkit) and the well-worn peg rail keeps things down to earth and not too showy.

From this view, you can also see the shapes of the other (beige) bench and office chair. The curves on the frames there go a long way to break up all the straight lines happening in the room’s architecture and key furniture pieces.

6. Warm things up with earthy accents and textiles.

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And the warm front continues. Textiles always finish off a space, no matter what design vibe you’re going for. Without rugs, pillows and the various throws around, this would have felt far less inviting. It would have still been very nice, but maybe a little too “corporate.” You’re designing a home, after all, not an office building, so layer them on. The key here is to keep everything in the neutral category, i.e. nothing too boldly patterned or colored. Nubby linens, sheepskins, cowhides, they all bring in that “organic” element we just talked about while adding coziness. A little goes a long way in Edgy Neutral, as do earthy ceramics.

7. Don’t forget the “weird and unique.”

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chairs via article | table | vase via the citizenry

And finally, the point that really homes in the soul and character of Edgy Neutral: the “weird” and unique. The part of the design that feels “off” but “off” in a good way. Like wearing a vintage holey T-Shirt with a sleek leather skirt and simple pumps. The classic “wait, why didn’t I think to put that together?” that happens when you see an effortlessly cool outfit/room. This photo above isn’t inherently strange in any way, but the added layer of that white plywood well with venting that William installed just MAKES that vignette. I’m not entirely sure what its purpose is, but maybe it doesn’t need a purpose? It’s different. It’s edgy. It’s a little weird and perfectly imperfect. That’s the secret sauce here. Find your “weird” moment and let it shine (but beware of bringing in too much of it all over. In general, err on the side of more minimal with everything else so you don’t end up with a room that looks like a garage sale).

Before we go, I have a question: if you had to pick between a cool, neutral minimal room and something more colorful and collected, which would you rather live in? And one other question: what styles have you been seeing out there (even if they don’t have a real name yet…get creative with the description!) that you feel are refreshing and like something new that you’d want us to dive into, style up via mood boards, and pull together shopping roundups for? Chime in in the comments below.

***photography by Sara Ligorria-Tramp  for EHD, produced and art directed by Emily Henderson, designed and styled with Velinda Hellen and Erik Staalberg


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40 thoughts on “A Basement-Turned-Office Reveal (+ 7 Steps For How to Pull Off “Edgy Neutral”)

  1. Love this article and edgy space. But, in answer to your question, I would prefer a space with a little more color. Mostly, because up here in the cold North, we have so much gray weather that a room without any color is hard on the soul (for me, anyway.) So my question for you is–how could you keep this edgy neutral vibe but either warm it up, or color it up, for a place that would be more inviting on one of the many dreary winter days?

    1. I think it depends on what you mean by color? Muted tones can be added nicely to this palette, I believe. Muted blues and greens keep things looking understated and natural, since these are major colors found on nature. Otherwise, I always love medium to light wood used in interior design in cities/countries that have many gray and rainy days. They’re a lot brighter and more lively than other tones of wood!

      The “edgy” part will suffer a little bit with other colors, I think, but nothing that can be remedied with matte black and streamlined pieces. Anyway, good luck!

  2. Hey! Just a warning, here in the North East you are NOT SUPPOSED TO PAINT CINDERBLOCK BASEMENTS. Exp with latex paint and if its below grade, it leads to efflorescence that just looks gross and is hard to remove, those blocks have to breathe. So please warn people that if there is a lot of moisture in your area seasonally, its better to not paint! Finished properly (drywall with breathing room and a good dehumidifier) and up to code is a better way to go! Love everything you post though! Its so tempting to just slap paint on basements but we have seen so many gross peeling, crumbling block paint situations because of it!

  3. Love this space. It’s so calm but edgy, bold but relaxed.

    My main thought is “oh, this is a space where you must always wear slippers” but with a space this gorgeous, it might be worth it.

    I don’t mind the panels but how I WISH someone had patched or caulked the seam between the boards (or at least Photoshopped?) I find the wavy gap so distracting 🙁

  4. I’d like to see someone do an industrial vibe that would still be considered colorful, not just neutrals.

    Also, rooms that incorporate stone/quartz countertops/tile that are bolder statement pieces, not just carrera, Calacatta, black, or white.

  5. Plywood with that hole pattern in a basement around here (Bay Area) means seismic reinforcement or retro fitting. Normally you’d drywall over it to finish it, but I suppose you don’t have it unless you want it to count towards finished square footage.

  6. I love, love, love this space though I wouldn’t necessarily say I’d want to live here. But I’m closer to this than colorful maximalist!

    My favorite trend I’ve been seeing is…refined cottage? Colored/organic wood cabinets, open shelves, antique furniture with clean lines, comfy neutral textiles, classic patterns (windowpane, plaid, organic florals). I look for antiques from all ages that aren’t overly decorative – I don’t care for intricate wood patterns, extra flourishes, but that doesn’t mean mid-century. Mixing mid-century styles with old, probably-once-lived-in-a-farmhouse, Amish-furniture styles makes for a collected and welcoming home!

  7. Love this! Any idea where the brass magazine/record holder side table with white top is from? I need that!!!

  8. Please give the source for that small brass side table. I’m in the need for something <12” wide and this looks like it fits the bill!

  9. I would go for the colorful! It is wonderful to walk into a space and know it will bring a smile — in spite of the spat you had with hubby or the second day of clouds and rain. The studio above is very cool, but it really offers me ‘nothing’ personally. Maybe I just don’t feel the ‘calm’ it would offer. Those office chairs are awesome!

  10. I would definitely prefer more colorful and collected. The styles I’ve been seeing lately are more art deco mixed with MCM. More tones of terra cotta and turquoise…which I guess are sort of “new desert?” More wood tones mixed with plants, greens and glass blues…guess I’d call that “new natural?” Those are the ones I see most of right now.

  11. Oh, and I forgot a big one!! Maximalist everything. Seems to be taking over the minimalist design of last years.

    1. totally agree. maximalism is the new minimalism (in terms of trends, not a way of life I’m advocating ha)

  12. I think this style is very cool and aesthetically pleasing, but I would struggle to stick to this style in most of my home. My husband, however, would love this. He’s somewhat colorblind (struggles more with some colors than others and it’s worse at some times of the day), and rooms like this are more visually quiet and easier to relax in for him. In most of our house, I’ve gone for muted/neutral tones on big things like walls and furniture, and accessories are where I bring in color. However, the basement is his zone (even though I get plenty of use out of it too), and is decorated in more this style because I wanted one area of the house where he gets whatever he wants and can escape when he needs the visual quiet. It’s fun to have both in a house so we can play with both styles.

  13. Love, love, love this! And definitely something I could live with. While I like seeing a lot of color in other people’s spaces, it’s not something I personally can live with a lot of. I need streamlined neutrals, with white, black and dark grays, to give my eyes and brain a rest. However, I’ve been very interested in the minimalist color block trend. I think I could do that, as long as everything else is kept neutral and sleek.

  14. Our basement in Minneapolis is a lot like this! So freshing to see an example I can emulate in my little home!

  15. Very amazing blogs. looking forward to see more about wall colors which also suits with interior.

  16. Amazing blogs. Would like to know more about wall colors which may suits with the interiors also.

  17. I just LOVE the look of a neutral decor! So peaceful and serene. I can’t get enough of layering textures in my cozy mountain home. Genius to paint the basement ceiling that dark smoky grey. Such an elegant way to hide all those wires and pipes in plain sight, give the ceiling a cohesive look, AND maintain the accessibility of those workhorses. The article didn’t mention this, but painted floors with roll up rugs is so incredibly practical for those rare times when a basement floor may get damp during heavy rains or snow. We have a pony wall in our basement that was too tall to be a bench, and was covered with ugly plywood that hinged up to give access to the wiring. We covered it with a beautiful wood slab with a live edge from our local sawmill. The raw wood looks so incredibly warm against the cold hard concrete floors. Now I feel armed to finish up our basement!!! Thank you Team EHD!

  18. I wasn’t able to find the black office desks with the link you provided. Do you know where I could find it or one like it? Thanks so much!

  19. The thing I struggle the most with is bringing in the weird. Emily is aces at it! I’d love to see a roundup post of weird & quirky furniture and decor you can buy online to help those of us who can’t quite execute the concept.

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