Tips for Decorating a Basement

Basements are often the first areas that most homeowners consider using for additional living space, especially if ceilings are a comfortable 8 feet high. Before you begin remodeling your basement, consider the function or functions it will perform. If you want it to serve as a home office, you need wiring for lights, computers, and phones. If a playroom for the kids is the goal, you want warm, comfortable, easily cleaned flooring. If you and your family pursue arts and crafts, you’ll require a slop sink, shelves, worktable, and stools. Other possibilities include a laundry room (wiring and plumbing are critical), a guest bedroom (convenience and comfort are crucial), or a bedroom for a teenager (consider privacy needs).

After you decide how to use your basement, and you tackle the heavy labor of remodeling, you can then have fun decorating. Consider these basics:

  • Create overhead beauty: Make the ceiling disappear by keeping it light (but not necessarily a strong-contrast white). Consider using a pale tint of your wall color. If you must use white, try an off-white that has a tinge of color. Avoid busy patterns on ceiling tiles or other ceiling materials. The simpler, the better and the higher the ceiling appears.

  • Color it sunny: Counteract basement gloom by selecting light, sunny colors from the warm side of the color wheel. If color seems too noisy for this naturally quiet space, select light, rich neutrals. And yes, if you’ve covered walls in inexpensive dark wood paneling as an expediency, you can paint it. Ask your paint dealer for the right primer.

  • Select the right flooring: Ceramic tile is a good choice for basement floors and may or may not be expensive, depending on your choice of tiles. Synthetic tile flooring is a popular, relatively inexpensive choice because small amounts of moisture won’t harm the material. If your floor is moisture-proof and you provide an appropriate subfloor, you may want carpet. Choose a synthetic fiber that can withstand moisture.

    Real wood flooring won’t work in basements because of the excess moisture. For the look without the problems, consider an engineered hardwood or wood-look laminate flooring. Ask your floor-covering dealer whether the material you’re installing will perform under damp conditions.

    Painting a cement basement floor is an inexpensive option. Check with your paint dealer about the right primer and paint. Some drawbacks are that painted cement doesn’t wear as well as other surfaces, absorbs no sound, doesn’t cushion your legs and feet, won’t offer any visual softening, and will have to be repainted from time to time. Our advice: Paint only little-used basement floor areas.

    Use the same flooring throughout your basement, even if there are different rooms. The continuity increases the apparent size of the space.

    A dehumidifier takes out the dampness that is characteristic of many basements. You’ll have less mold and mildew.

  • Furnish it your way: With proper ventilation and humidity control, upholstery is right at home. If you’re not using synthetic tile on the floor (which allows wicking away of moisture), you may want to use moisture-protection pads for furniture as a precaution. Otherwise, anything goes. Choose a style, period, or look that suits you.

  • Light your world: Provide ample ceiling lighting, and install warm rather than cool bulbs, because warm bulbs tend to make the space more appealing. Your lighting also eliminates the need for table and floor lamps that eat up space physically and visually. If you want extra lighting, choose wall sconces or pendant lamps.

    Mirrors bounce light back and tend to make spaces seem both brighter and bigger, so use them as wall coverings or accessories in basements.

  • Choose wall materials: Before you finish basement walls, make sure that they’re moisture-proof. Then, you may finish them with popular and inexpensive wooden paneling or wallboard. Paneling requires a one-step installation, so you can apply it quickly. Wallboard needs spackling and either painting or wallcovering, so this process is more time-consuming and a little more expensive than paneling. Paneling’s vertical lines tend to make ceilings seem higher, but wallboard is more versatile because it can be either painted or papered.

  • Treat your windows: Basement windows need privacy. Thin-slat inside mount blinds that fit inside the window frame (or reveal) look tidy, as opposed to outside mount blinds suspended awkwardly on a long wall. Long draperies for short, small basement windows can look awkward. If you want the softening effect of fabric, consider swags. They may sound old-fashioned, but they look smart in up-to-date fabrics.

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