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  • Writer's pictureSusan Wilson

A basement is born

Updated: Nov 17, 2018

Aargh! Before I can even begin to talk about basements, or anything else, I just need to curse and wail a little...

So this was my back yard on Thursday morning. Pretty, right? Fall in all its glory, etc. And I was right on schedule: rake the

less-pretty side today, put in a couple more hours tomorrow while still enjoying that yellow carpet of leaves as long as possible, then Saturday my husband and I could finish the last bit together, and ta-dah, all ready for winter.

And late Thursday afternoon, SAME DAY, this is what it looked like. Admittedly, also pretty, but definitely not working with my raking schedule AT ALL. So now all those leaves are laying sodden and congealed beneath a thick layer of heavy wet snow. And who cares really, except that I'm pretty sure it can't be good for the recently laid sod.

(Although, up-side: packing snow! Children all over Mississauga are overjoyed, I'm sure)

Important disclaimer: my 'leaf-raking schedule' may have left the impression that I am the one always toiling away with the yard work, keeping things in order and lookin' tidy. However in the spirit of transparency I should make it clear that it is my husband who can take the credit for the lion's share of the grunt work in our yard (I'm more the ideas guy). If he had been in charge of this task he would have A) checked the weather forecast, and B) been done days ago anyways.

Okay so back to the basement. I am currently helping a very nice young couple (who incidentally are parents of two of the sweetest kids on the planet) come up with a plan for their unfinished basement. Here is the basement on my first visit:

As you can see, they have a pretty blank slate to work with, which is nice!

They need the main space to accommodate television watching for the whole family, space for the boys to play, and a configuration that works for entertaining as well. The husband is a wine aficionado and would like a space for wine-tasting near the wine-cellar-to-be. I can get behind that.

There will also be a shared office for the husband and wife, a home gym and adjoining bathroom with shower.

A quick sketch of the layout, showing some of my thinking after having met with the homeowners to determine their goals for their basement, and a first assessment of the physical space

Our first focus is to design, furnish and style the main living space and to select all finishes and fixtures for the bathroom; the office, gym and wine cellar will be up next. The 3D model below, (far from finished), will help the homeowners be able to visualize some of my design suggestions that will form the basis for the rest of the plan, and make it easy for me to explain to them WHY I'm recommending what I'm recommending, and how it will make their space both highly functional and also real purdy.

Because this basement is being finished for the first time, as opposed to being renovated, it is an ideal time to be anticipating every single possible function that this basement needs to fulfill, and to do my best to meet those needs (within a realistic budget of course--we won't be putting in a full height aquarium wall or an elevator to the third floor). That's why it is so important to me to sit down first thing and really get to know the clients lifestyle, needs, wishes, style preferences and general plans for life going forward in their home.

If you are preparing on your own for a renovation, be sure to take the time to think about how your home can work with your lifestyle now and in the future, and the look and feel that will make you happiest at home. Now is the time to really think through any design moves that can improve the form, the function (or both) of the space. If you are ever involved in this kind of blank slate project, my advice is to take your time to research, research, research, collect lots of inspiration shots and ideas, and think through all the possibilities. It is much more economical to do it right the first time than to have something that's not working drive you crazy until you pay someone to take it out and redo it!

For example, because of the dimensions of the main area in this basement, the L-shape layout and the existing window placement, in order to have the television centred in front of the seating area means that it will be placed somewhat awkwardly close to the window in the corner, and not centred between the two windows. In order to compensate for this imbalance, I've added a textural wood wall to frame the television along with that really-close window, to make them one comprehensive unit; the television will now feel centred properly on the wood wall framing it. There were several other considerations that led me to this design decision:

-This is a basement and the addition of texture and wood will add character and warmth

-The homeowners prefer a sparer look without much art on the walls, so this is a way to lend interest to the walls without them feeling busy or cut up with lots of smaller pieces hanging around, as it were

-A built-in entertainment unit with shelving around the television would not be a good choice for my clients; they are not 'tchotchke' people, and having open shelving means having to fill that shelving with stuff, which is not their happy place at all. Pretty sure I spelled tchotchke right, there...

This space can be used a lot by the family: games or puzzles at the four swivel chair seating area (Quick aside: four swivel chairs is one of my favourite configurations when you have a space large enough for the traditional sofa and chair arrangement plus another grouping. Comfortable, flexible usage, and it's a great configuration for encouraging actual face-to-face conversations for your kids! Plus let's face it, swivel chairs are just fun.)

The home gym makes staying fit so convenient and can be used regularly by mom and dad, and by the boys when they grow into their teens. A dedicated home office will be a real blessing as both homeowners often work from home, and has the option to be converted into a guest bedroom if necessary in the future. The boys can have friends over and make plenty of noise, and use the large floor area to set up larger games.

It is also a space that will convert easily into an area for entertaining friends and family in larger gatherings:

The wooden beams will add more interest and warmth to the space, and define the tiled bar area. Feature walls, like humans, need closure. A feature wall/area that just dies out with no architectural reason for ending can seem forced and a bit awkward.

The wall you see on the right is currently transparent in the model, as it is still in To-Be-Determined-Land. Something needs to enclose and define the gym, but there are FOUR windows in that area, and light is precious in a basement. Closing them off completely from the main space would be a not-so-great idea. Perhaps a nice black steel framed glass wall here? Or sliding panels? We shall see...

Like I said, TBD.

During our first meeting we spoke extensively about the look they would like to achieve in their new basement living space. They love the black, white and wood combo (pinch me, I'm in heaven) with a spare and stream-lined aesthetic. They like a slightly industrial lean to the style, while staying urban rather than rustic. I'm going to call it 'elegant industrial'. They are also not pattern people, and prefer mostly solids for their upholstered pieces. After the bigger, permanent finishes like flooring have been selected, it is time to pick a jumping off point for the colour palette so that the major pieces of upholstered furnishings and the area rugs can be sourced. The choices made around these larger pieces will then have a trickle-down effect that will help determine the rest of the pieces in the space.

While I had a very good idea of their preferred colours, before I began sourcing the major furnishings for them, I gave them a couple of colour boards to look at so that they could decide exactly which direction they would like to go, colour palette-wise:

After much deliberation they decided on the middle palette of black, grey and camel with some hits of cognac leather for their major upholstered pieces. Door number two for the win!

So now, I was able to shoot out of the starting gate for the really fun part: shopping!!!!

But everybody loves a cliff-hanger (right??), so I'm going to leave my furniture finds for the next instalment. Meanwhile we have to do the waiting patiently part, while the floor gets evened, the walls get built, the plumbing gets plumbed, the wiring gets wired--you get the idea.

Can't wait to show you some of the pieces that we will be including in the space! I'm pretty excited; it's going to look beautiful, and will add a whole new dimension to how this family uses their home!

Until next time,



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