Basements are on my brain right now. I’ve designed a few in my life, but dark cold Oregon basements that need to function as a media and family room are DIFFERENT. You can’t just throw white paint on the walls and a cute loveseat and expect people to want to hang out. Often they feel like a cold dark storage room, and can even go creepy. So right now I’m thinking about ours in our rental and how we can lightly make it better/cozier for the winter while I’m ALSO finishing up the design of one of my best friends with Priscilla Frost (who helped on the first Portland project and took the lead on this one). After staring at mine with a ‘HOW CAN I HELP YOU?’ question in my brain and finishing up Robyn’s we’ve come up with a formula (and guess what? The ’70s were right!!!).
A Sectional Instead Of A Sofa
When it comes to coziness I prefer a sectional EVERYWHERE, but if you are thinking about your basement now and are about to buy a couch, I implore you to go the sectional route. They don’t just provide more seating, they don’t just make it easier to lounge, they create a delineated cozy space within their parameters. It’s like how rugs do that in other rooms – it says, ‘HERE. HERE IS WHERE WE HANG TOGETHER’. It also democratizes the sitting preference, with everyone getting ‘the good seat’ rather than some people getting the ‘accent chair’. I kinda want to put that on a sign and protest at sofa stores. Currently, we have a couch in our basement (leftover from LA) but boy do I wish it were a sectional, and yes I look on Craigslist every day. In the first Portland project, we used this one from Interior Define which I LOVE. I’m always a fan of this one from Article and we just got one from Interior Define which is U-shaped with a chaise for Robyn’s basement (it was a specific customization that worked great). Skip the accent chairs, just put in one huge cozy sectional and call it done. See? The ’70s had it RIGHT.
Caveat – If you have kids/adults that are gamers consider reducing the scale of your coffee table so that you can fit either gaming chairs (I hear that’s a thing) OR everyone standing up, swinging arms like crazy people. Hopefully, you can shove the gaming chairs out of your way for your movie nights, but definitely keep the coffee table movable or perch-able.
Wall To Wall Carpet Or BIG Rugs
In the name of extreme coziness, I, Emily Henderson, am pro-wall-to-wall (or massive area rugs) in basements, especially if they are in colder areas. The only reason we didn’t do it at the Portland project was because it opened up to the backyard with a big entertaining space and surely would have gotten very muddy, same with at our Glendale house and Los Feliz home (but the wood flooring certainly helped warm those up). But if yours is enclosed and doesn’t open directly to mud it’s OK to have wall-to-wall carpet, even with a rug on top to amp up the coziness. Ours in our rental is faux wood laminate, so I’ve covered most of it with carpets which helps a lot. For Robyn’s, we put down a simple wall-to-wall carpet and are layering this rug on top of it near the seating area. For my friend Nicole’s basement that Max designed and while they did concrete in the basement they put down a LOT of rugs. Just go big really with the rugs.
Cozy Up Your Walls – Paneling Or Paint
Most basements likely have little natural light, low ceilings, and virtually no cute “architectural features”. So if you just put drywall and paint beige it will feel sad, cold, and yes, like a storage room. The ’70s knew this. They put up wood paneling and got decades of shame for it, but THEY WERE RIGHT. We just paneled Robyn’s basement with Ross Alan Reclaimed Black Walnut (yes, it’s extra beautiful), and omg it’s so stunning But if that’s not your budget, even pine, cedar or fur adds a lot. If wood isn’t your game (or if you have wood flooring) even paneling like V-groove or shiplap painted out will add a lot of texture and give it a ‘we actually cared’ feeling. And listen if you are remodeling know that finished drywall isn’t free either. Yes, paneling is more but if you have to finish your walls somehow don’t go the drywall route thinking that is so much cheaper – because it doesn’t have to be. Inexpensive paneling from the lumber store can be pretty affordable (just more labor).
Now if you have walls without paneling and that feels like a lot of work, you just paint them a cozier color or add wallpaper. Just do SOMETHING to your walls so it doesn’t feel like a storage room. White paneling is fine, but white drywall in a basement is not. I kinda want to paint ours a rose or blue or green (any warm color) just stay away from anything too cold like gray especially if you live in colder climates. (No one paints anything gray in Portland which I think is funny but totally get it).
Think About Your Ceiling
Basements usually have low ceilings, which can make it feel claustrophobic and contribute to the ‘storage room’ vibes. Now you have a couple options: 1. Expose it like Max did in this basement:
Or you could do what we did in the Portland project and panel it (admittedly this was an expensive paneling job, so…. ). Now if either of those are out of your budget then consider painting it the same colors as the walls – I kinda wish we had painted Robyn’s ceilings the same color as the wood so your eye wasn’t stopped at the ceiling line and continued upward (strangely making the ceilings feel higher, not lower).
Create Zones – Multiple Reasons To Hang
Basements are usually bigger open areas and if empty they feel more depressing than other rooms that have more going on. So this is a great opportunity to bring in more to do. This could be a game table, a puzzle area, a bar, an air hockey/ping pong table.
A Focus On The TV
The bed is to the bedroom like the TV is to the basement and you should design the space for the singular purpose – watching the TV. OF course, one thing I’m not thinking about is gaming as our kids aren’t there yet, so you’ll have to factor that in. But if you are buying now go as big as you can, hang it where it makes the most sense (even if it’s against any upstairs design rules), and orient the room around the TV. It’s OK. It can be the center of attention because it will be, so make the room as functional as possible – i.e. as comfortable to watch TV.
Really Good Ambient Lighting
I think it’s crucial to have warm lights. While cans are great for playing board games, etc, and often it’s all you can have in your ceiling since it’s generally lower. But having sconces or lamps is crucial for it not feeling like a storage room. Remember this post from last year and my general feelings about warm lights and the darker months (and I guess rooms!)
So what are your thoughts? Anything else you loved about your ’70s basements? Let’s chat. xx
Opening Image Credits: Design by Raili Clasen | Photo by Christopher Testani | From: Real Simple Full Home Tour – The First Showhouse I’ve Done In Years