My basement always runs 10 degrees cooler than the main floor of the house. Nice in the summer. Less so in the depths of winter. The bunker needed something to warm it up, both for a little localized actual heat and for the welcoming feeling a flicker of flame can provide.
On the someday list is adding a gas fireplace. For now, an electric fireplace or just a space heater would be the only options. I preferred a fireplace for safety and aesthetic reasons. The trouble was, I just could not bring myself to open my wallet to drop $300-$500 on the kind of unit that would look good and warm up that space. And they were mostly unappealing to me, with that faux wood/veneer look they all seem to have.
You know where this is going! It was time to lurk around Craigslist and see what could be found. It turns out that Summer is a good time to shop for this sort of thing in the classifieds. Without too much looking, I found one in good condition last summer.
Still, not a look I loved. But at the el cheapo Craigslist price, painting didn’t feel like an affront. Regular paint wouldn’t work over that hard poly finish most electric fireplaces have. But chalk paint, with its superior adhesion, could fix all that.
So here it is. In the winter or when there are overnight guests, it adds some nice, quick warmth to the basement. The electric flame is janky but cheerful. I even kind of love it, which is not something I ever thought I’d say about a fake fireplace.
Now I just have to decide whether to turn my parent’s brass candlesticks into lamps . . .
What about you? Have you refreshed an electric fireplace unit? How did it work out?
The bunker basement needed a warm palette. And also a light palette. It had been painted one of those moldy tans, under the mistaken impression that all earth tones are warm, maybe. Or perhaps it was remainder paint. I dunno. The rehabbers did it to make the old rental/fixer look clean.
Some things couldn’t be immediately changed about basement, including the fact that it was a 7′ ceiling and so naturally inclining to the dark side. Also, the serviceable new tan carpet the rehabbers put in right before I bought the house was going to stay.
Other things could, including the removal of a wall, to create a family room / home office space.
I’ve always been drawn to pale yellow and red, maybe because of pretty apples, maybe because of how well it’s used in some Asian decor. It’s just pretty.
Hmm, noticing here that my favorite images aren’t exactly basement rooms.
Anyway, that’s what I decided on. It would work well with white trim, add warmth, and not darken or drag down the space. Pale yellow walls, white painted trim, red accents. None of this would fight too much with the neutral carpet. Also, I thought that the use of red in both the basement and the basement stairwell would offer a nice transition.
Since my first big change would be the built-in, I painted it white and used fabric in red and white for the back-of-the-bookcase part.
So, that’s where we’re going with all this. More photos and updates to come.
Once I’d got a bedroom wall removed as part of my basement upgrade, it was time to think about improving function. I wanted storage, a place for my books, and for all that to be out of the way. Time for a basement built-in!
The spot I chose for the the built in was the far wall of the basement. Adjacent to that wall was a closet, with doors that started about 15 inches from the wall. It also extended to a window, which started about 20 inches from the wall, so it was a sort of narrow strip.
It seemed destined for a built-in. 15 inches is not a lot of space but not blocking the closet was essential. So it was basically going to be wasted space unless a built-in could go there. The built-in would also be drawing space from the long side of the room, far better than cutting into the narrow part.
Originally I thought about simple floor to ceiling bookcases. These would have been the most inexpensive option. Yet, I live with cats. Though mostly well-behaved, we have the occasionally rage moment. So the base of whatever storage I implemented needed to be closed, protecting whatever was inside from possible bad behavior.
I did consider building my own base units. As part of the Interim Kitchen project, I’d built an appliance cabinet from scratch (article coming soon!). A great experience, it came with some lessons.
First was cost. It’s just not always cheaper to build than buy, especially when your aesthetic is simple and clean. And your budget is cheap. Another lesson was about time investment. Building a cabinet is fun, but requires care and some precision. I wanted to get this unit built quickly, so I could unpack my books and just get organized.
Palette-wise, I was going for light and bright to lighten the basement. Cabinets would be a conventional white (Kelly-Moore Country Cotton). It would work instantly with the yellow-red colors I planned for the basement, and in the future if I changed up the color scheme. So painted white wood seemed right.
For the base cabinets, I settled on four of these upper cabinets from Home Depot. Though you can get already-white stock cabinets, they seemed to shiny and laminate like to me. I wanted the white of painted wood in exactly the white I was using in the rest of the house. These cabinets would be 12″ deep, 30″ tall and 30″ wide. These seem to go on sale every now and then so if you’re diving into a project like this one, start lurking around for that 20% off sale.
I laid out the cabinets with a frame made of 2×4 against the wall and cut away the carpet in that spot. Score! That carpet was used to patch the carpet from the wall removal part of this project. Since these are usually wall cabinets, there’s no clearance between the bottom of the cabinet and the floor. The 2×4 frame gives the cabinets that clearance, plus a little height, stability, and level consistency. I painted the cabinets first outside and then got the bases installed.
Next it was time to do a top counter. Functioning as the bookcase base, it needed to be wider than the 12″ cabinet depth, but smaller than the 15″ allowance wall-to-closet clearance. This was easily accomplished by asking the home store guys to cut the panels to the right width, and finishing it with a nicely sanded 1×2.
Base to ceiling bookcase supports to go up but before that, I wanted to do something interesting for the the wall behind the bookcases. Wallpaper seemed like too much work and commitment. Armed with my with fabric, liquid starch and a roller, I got started. For the details on my fabric-as-wallpaper, go here.
Ten minutes later (literally), it looked like this:
For once I was kind of excited by these low ceilings because my 54″ fabric panel installed without cutting or piecing.
Next it was time to put up the rails / sides of the bookcases. In my ideal world, they’d go floor to ceiling and line up with the cabinets. Here’s a summary of the basic steps:
Cut the boards to measure.
Drill holes inside the bookshelf sides. Use a pegboard for very easy spacing. These holes are going to be where you insert shelf spacers so make the hole size right for your pegs.
Drill pocket hole screw spots at top and bottom of each side.
Mount top of shelf to two sides using pocket hole screws. Check to be sure it’s square.
Mount 3/4 box onto top of shelf base using pocket hole screws.
Next it was time to install the additional side. It’s essentially like the first box, only this time it’s an L and not a U since two sides of the box are already in.
Once all the sides are in, it’s time to cut, paint and insert shelves.
And here it is, finally! Tons of storage.
Doing it again, I wouldn’t do the project exactly as I did this time. Here are some lessons learned:
Kinda wished I’d been even cheaper and looked at the ReStore for upper cabinets to use. I only needed 12 feet of upper cabinets to get this going. As used cabinets, uppers are often great condition and would have reduced project cost significantly.
Check all the cabinets at the store. Or as soon as you get home. One of the cabinets has a gap between the doors that just bugs me. It’s small, and I couldn’t see it when I pulled the unit, which was packaged. Didn’t notice it until I was ready to install all the units and unwrapped it then. Urg. At that point, I was in GET IT DONE mode and just didn’t want to go back to the store. Now it’s there forever and will always bug me a little, even if no one else notices it.
Have the patience to redo it. I messed up a little on the trim of the cabinet topper. This is another thing that only I seem to notice. Wish I’d had the patience at the time to rip it all apart and do it again, properly.
Make thicker shelves: I cheaped out and used 1/2″ shelf plywood. I wish I’d gone with a thicker shelf, and a better, smoother grade of plywood. It would cost more, but I’d like it better. For now, I’m okay with my thin plywood shelves, even if they’re bowing a little.
Maybe upgrade the quality overall. I was thinking basement/second-best materials for this basement storage unit. Sometimes I wish I’d gone for slightly higher quality in my materials. Other times it seems just right to me. Always I am so glad I had the chance to learn on this project.
What do you think? Have you made a built in? What would you do differently? For more on how the whole basement upgrade is going, check here.
I think of my basement as “The Bunker,” maybe because this house was built in 1947, and I imagined the first owners thinking they’d use it to hide out from the A-bomb. I used that to infuse it with a more useful floor plan and a warmer vibe.
But before it got there, that basement needed help. Dark and depressing, with boxed up spaces, I needed it to evolve into a useful, inviting space that could also handle overflow guests. This meant multiple, incremental projects which are listed below. Please stay tuned as more below segments go live.
I wanted the behind-the-books part of my DIY storage unit to pop and be pretty. Wallpaper seemed like too much work and commitment so I poked around online for fabric-as-wallpaper articles. These three great articles took the mystery out of the project:
Armed with my $5 per yard red and white fabric from Home Fabrics (discount upholstry & drapery fabric) store, liquid starch and a paint roller, I got started.
Now, my technique wasn’t the best practices described in these articles. Here’s what I did:
Painted the wall in liquid starch with a little roller.
Placed the fabric on the wall (didn’t put starch on the back of it. Too unweildly, too much cat hair to fight).
Put a few staples in the top to be extra sure it would stay in place. (The staples aren’t generally required and wouldn’t normally be pretty. I felt okay about adding them because I knew they’d be covered by the shelving.)
Rolled over the fabric with starch to seal it to the wall.
Waited for it all to dry and then tested it to see if would really peel off THAT EASILY. And . . . it did! And pasted back down just as easily with the application of a little more liquid starch.
It all worked just fine and went super fast (like maybe 10 minutes). And here’s how it looked:
Have you used fabric for wallpaper? Love or hate it?
I got lucky with the Minnipin house because it came with a finished basement. The spare bedroom is nice for overnight guests, though it’s not space I need to use everyday. And it’s convenient that the house’s second tiny bathroom is down there.
I did need to use the rest of the basement as my home office, for storage, and for cat convenience. And it would be ideal to have a family room feeling space in the basement, not just boxed off bedrooms and a bathroom. This house is big enough, but the footprint is not huge. So, making use of basement was important.
Unfortunately, as I got acclimated to living here, I found myself more and more reluctant to go into the basement. Part of it was the uninviting stairwell, which I’ve been working on (details here). Yet it was also what you experienced when you got down the stairs as well.
Adding a window to the vestibule was cost prohibitive in the basement because it required cutting through concrete, making a well, etc.
Sacrificing a bedroom to create a family room/study started to make sense. There would still be my guest bedroom and the bathroom. A family room could also handle overflow guests, on the rare occasion when I have so many that the bedrooms can’t cope.
I decided to remove the wall of the bedroom closest to the busier street outside. That way the guest bedroom would offer more quiet and privacy for guests. Also, this was the bedroom with the smallest closet, so the least appealing to actually occupy.
After some basic research online, I decided that my expertise was just not up to doing this all myself. So I went to my realtor-recommended handyman service, the Pros of Idaho. A quote of around $500 would cover wall removal, patching the ceiling and sorting out the electricity.
“We” got started fast:
And it went fast. Now when you came down the stairs, you’d walk into a long, big room illuminated with natural light.
Next the Pros sorted out the wiring so that the light switch that turned on the old vestibule light would also now turn on the old bedroom’s overhead light. I also hired them to patch the carpet where the wall was gone, something I’d planned to do myself originally. This cost an additional $150 and let’s face it, with a better result than I’d have got myself.
Wall removal done! Onto turning it into an inviting, useful space starting with built-in storage.
I wanted the cheer of cottage style stairwell walls. The goal was to make descent into the basement feel clean and fresh. This post will be updated as we go. Step-by-step, here’s the stairwell wall project:
Admit an epic fail: I thought bead board might be the answer and gave that a shot. The trouble is, I didn’t do it right so it had to be redone (or drive me insane). If you’re going to follow each stair with bead board, you’re supposed cut the bottom rail so it wraps it, not just place it on top, as I did. And after that, the panels need cutting as well. When I did this, I was working with a jig saw, not very effectively. If you walk down the stairs, you see gaps and unevenness in the panels. I guess this is where I am super grateful for the opportunity to learn from my mistakes.
Remove the old stuff. The rails were toast, being made essentially of cardboard or some such. The panels slid out and were undamaged. The plan is to recut them and not buy any new.
Paint the new rails. Last year I bought some wood rails and they’ve been curing in the stairwell for more than the prescribed three days (more like nine months). They were on sale and at the time, I knew the stairs needed redoing so dropping $24 for four sets of new wood rails seemed reasonable.
Mount the rails. This was pretty simple. The top one went in the only place it could and the bottom angled into it. Not perfect looking but the Down and Dirty Stair Project article gave me confidence that I could fill in the gaps. The bottom one abutted the top and rested on the stairs.
Fill the below-bottom rail triangle gap: That little triangle needed to be filled in to bring the wall out to be flush with the bottom of the rail. Getting plywood ripped to 8.75″ wide pieces (the stair base measurement) at the lumber store seems like the most efficient way to go. From there, cutting it into triangles would be pretty easy. However, I’m embroiled in No Spend Spring, which put the project on hold. That is, until I remembered to shop in my garage rafters. There I found a piece of not-too-warped 1/2″ plywood. Perfect! Obviously this piece of wood was begging to be put to use before it became unusable. And it was free. Project back on.
So I measured and remeasured (not my strong suit). And kind of exasperating as these “quirky: stairs were not entirely even, nor was my rail 100% straight (guess that’s what you get for the price). Only two measurements were needed: bottom of stair and stair rise, at a simple 90 degrees. Then the top of the triangle just needed to connect the two end points.
Next I used my little circular saw (Versacut) to make appropriate sized triangles. This isn’t precisely hard but it is time consuming as you need to check that you got each triangle right as you go. If your stairs are inconsistent like mine, be sure to number the back of each triangle so you know which stair tread it belongs to.
After painting the triangles, each one just slides in for a nice, tight fit. These could be secured with adhesive or a nail though I’m not sure it’s necessary. The carpet hides any rough edges and slight inconsistencies
Recut and insert panels, starting at the top. This part would be easier if I weren’t re-cutting the panels from the first install. Also, if I was better at figuring out angles. And these were normal even stairs and walls. Still . . .
This is a work in progress article, additional images coming
The Little Egg House’s basement stairs are uninviting, dank and depressing looking — or they were. They were painted the same dank mushroom as the rest of the house and the walls were a mix of plaster and plywood when I moved in. With so many other projects to do, this has been a start & stop thing with me but let’s talk about the work-in-progress plan.
Use: It’s kind of a hardworking stairwell. Besides leading to the basement, an outside door backs onto it and that’s heavily used my me and the Mints. The main floor bath has an access door through it, the electrical box is on one wall, and there’s some other utilitarian protuberance that apparently has to live there forever.
Goals: Make it inviting, not dark and dank. Add as much light and cheer as possible while keeping it easy to clean. Keep the budget super tight. Changes should improve the value and charm of this house but cost as little as humanly possible.
Basement back door: Certain doors and windows needed correction right when I moved in. The exterior door was full of cracks in the dead of winter. Replacing it with a single glass door seemed like a no brainer: natural light in the stairwell and better insulation than the cracked wood door. I went with a new door through Home Depot. Next time around I’d probably check Second Chance or the ReStore before buying new.
It was perfect for the basement door. Mostly I enjoy daylight lighting the stairwell but when I need privacy, it’s instantly there. Because the blinds are completely enclosed, there’s no annoying clanking around when I open and close the door. The animals can’t get to the blinds or cords to destroy them either. Easy to clean.
Note: you can buy doors with the shades integrated as well, instead of adding a third piece of glass. I like this solution better because if the shade goes wonky, I can pull it off without replacing the door. It’s also one more layer of insulation against both cold and heat.
Decor: The stairs lead into a basement that I’m decorating in pale yellow and red. Because of that, I wanted to incorporate red into the design, yet also give the stairwell a ridiculously light and bright feel.
I found this Grey Fox Studio print at the Boise Capital City Market. How is it possible not to love a cephalopod?! I love the Scandinavian feel of the crisp blue against the red. That fresh blue seemed like the right main color for the basement stairwell walls, inviting, clean looking, the opposite of dank. And the contrasting red was interesting and exciting. Trim in white keeps it bright. So, light & bright blue, red, and white it is!
So, by the back door landing, which you see from the kitchen as well, I’m using (hopefully distracting) art with red pops in it. Along the right wall is a gallery of black and white family photos (that I used in my other home). Along the left, some other black and white-ish pictures. Finally, my favorite frowny picture of a niece would startle anyone descending the stairs (you really don’t want to be on the other end of her stink eye). I decided not to decorate high, though this stairwell lends itself to it. There just seemed something very pretty about that large expanse of blue.
Spotlight lighting: The light over the stairwell was a single 60 watt bulb in a jar light. Utilitarian but dingy.
I wanted something bright, warm and adjustable. A halogen light on a small track seemed right. Though they run hot, the basement and the stairs are always quite cool so when those lights are actually on, the warmth is welcome. The new fixture is nothing high end, about $25 at the local electrical supply store.
Ceiling: Yup, it still needs painting. While it’s a fine white, it would be nice to clean up the area around the light. My back’s not up to it right now so we’re in make do mode.
Doomed stairs: The stairs were carpeted in a utilitarian tan carpet when I moved in. It was new and clean, just not pretty. I had dreams of ripping it out and painting the stairs, assuming some basic pine was hiding under there. Unfortunately, peeling back the carpet showed old wood stairs in too rough and inconsistent shape to be freshened with just a paint job without some investment. And it’s true that carpet on stairs to the basement (an always cool temp area) can be nice. So, a full redo of the stairs is not on the priority list. The new plan is to make the best of what’s there and see what can be done to improve things.
Cottage stairwell walls: The stairwell walls are uneven and of different materials. Some are plaster, some plywood, the whole thing an obvious afterthought. The simplest solution is paneling and paint. We’re going for white and bead board, which means some jiggering to make the stairs look right and finished. More than anyone wants to know can be found here.
Still to do:
Light switch plate upgrade: the bead board paneling adds thickness. This means the light switch boxes needed to come forward a little (or the plates don’t screw in), and be changed out to a crisp white
Disguising frame for mystery utility hardware: I’m thinking this can be achieved with leftover 1x2s or 1x3s, to give the space a more finished look. There are three of these, including the electrical panel
Put a cheap runner over the stair carpet: ideally red to transition to the red in the basement. Ideally free. Here’s a test version using Max’s favorite Mexican blanket. Gotta remind myself: it’s more important to get the right runner vs just getting this done. There’s carpet in good shape there now so anything new should be a real upgrade
Bannister? Does it need one? I’m on the fence.
Ceiling paint refresh: yes, I am intimidated by the ceiling height, the only place I can say that about in this whole house. Plus my back is too cranky