When you find yourself in need of a larger living space, you can expand your house with an addition, build up with another level, or re-evaluate an unfinished basement. Of these options, tackling the basement is likely to be the fastest and least expensive. A residential architect can help turn that dingy, dark area into a beautiful, well-lit living space that flows seamlessly with the other levels of your home. Here are some ways an architect can redesign that blank-slate basement into something special.

Create a basement that works for you

Start by deciding how your basement will work with the rest of your house. One possibility is to shutter the stairway down with a door to separate the lower level from upper levels. Most architects will veer to the opposite approach of opening up the stairwell as an extension of upper levels, so that it brings light from above and obliterates the old concept of basements. Either way, your architect will help create the plan that works for you.

Select a general approach for your remodeling project that fits the budget. Many older house basements have low ceilings, sometimes too low to be usable; codes call for ceilings of at least seven feet. The problem is often that plumbing pipes, HVAC ducts, and electrical components have been installed without design considerations in mind. Your architect can relocate these elements near perimeter walls and in bulkheads, turning an eyesore into an important feature.

Light up your life

A layered approach to lighting is especially important. Aim for a variety of light sources, such as wall sconces, wall washers, accent lights, task lighting, and even dimmable overhead lighting. The single best lighting design strategy to transform your basement into prime living space is to include natural light. That open stairway from the level above could be a good source of daylight. So, too, will windows and French doors. Existing windows can be enlarged and new windows or window wells can be installed on the exterior, working with interior glass walls, doors, and transoms to help spread light.

New basement trends can add value to your home

Many homeowners want one or more bedrooms in their basement. At a minimum, they need a window that meets egress requirements and space for a closet. Many basements already have a bath or half bath; these can easily be renovated and expanded. Office space in a basement is also a selling point.

Rather than more bedrooms, some basements include gyms or yoga studios. Wine cellars are currently among the biggest trends in basement renovations.

Access the outside

Many new homes have walkout basements, but that is rarely a feature for older homes with in-ground basements. By specifying an oversized stairwell outside the basement and double- or triple-glass paneled doors and egress windows, the architect can connect your basement space to the exterior and also visually expand the basement itself.

Don’t forget about storage

Modern lifestyles include lots of stuff that needs to be stored, and basements offer a real opportunity to keep these collections at bay. Your architect can help you decide if you need a walk-in closet, shelves in the mechanical room, or small closets and cabinets in the blind, below-ground areas. Custom designed built-ins for books or artwork can enhance the aesthetics of any room and help you and your architect turn an unused basement into prime living space.

About the author: Elena Marcheso-Moreno writes about architecture and design from McLean, Virginia.

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