1. Make a Family Room or Rec Room
Basements are ideal for casual social activities for the whole family, or just for the kids. It's the perfect spot for the big screen TV, pool table, and to stash board games and craft supplies.
Make this space inviting by finishing and decorating it like any upstairs room. Choose comfortable furnishings that can be easily rearranged to accommodate a few people or a crowd. Incorporate sound systems, internet connections, and good lighting to make the space functional.
For more family room ideas and rec room designs, see:
2. Include a Bedroom and Bath
A basement bedroom and full or half bath makes an ideal suite for guests or teens.
Think about who will sleep in the basement and the amenities they'll need to help you determine the best dimensions. To comfortably fit a double bed, you'll need a room with a minimum of 125 square feet. If twin beds will serve your needs better, plan on at least 150 square feet.
Building codes also require that basement bedrooms have an emergency exit that leads directly outside, either through a door or a window.
For ways to create comfortable basement bedrooms and baths, see:
3. Add a Kitchen or Laundry Room
A wet bar or mini kitchen in the basement makes entertaining much easier. The inclusion of a mini kitchen makes a basement with a bed and bath into an entire guest suite.
A kitchen requires access to hot and cold water, as well as electrical outlets for an undercounter refrigerator, a microwave oven, small countertop appliances, and possibly a small dishwasher or dishwasher drawer.
A laundry room is a good idea in the basement, but it needs a floor drain and access to an outside wall to vent the dryer.
For more inspiration on designing basement kitchens and laundry rooms, see:
4. Design an Attractive and Safe Staircase
You already have stairs to the basement, but when you're remodeling, make sure they meet code and look good. If they're not in a convenient location, consider moving them to a better spot.
Codes vary with staircase configurations and baluster shape, so you'll need to talk to the building inspector about your plans. It's also a good idea to consult an architect or other design professional for help in designing a staircase that works well with your other plans for the space.
For ideas on staircase design and finishing, see:
5. Plan for Windows and Doors
Adding or enlarging basement windows and adding exterior doors are jobs for a professional, but the resulting natural light and ventilation will significantly increase your enjoyment of this living space.
To add belowground windows you'll need to dig a window well. The retaining wall for the well may be made of masonry, limestone blocks, or treated landscape timbers, as in this window well. The terraced timbers serve as pot garden perches as well as steps for an emergency exit.
For ideas on adding basement windows and using interior and exterior doors, see:
6. Finish the Walls for Inviting Ambience
Foundation walls are usually made of poured concrete or stacked concrete block, materials that reinforce the feeling of the basement as a secondary space. To give the basement main-floor style, cover the concrete with your choice of materials: drywall, plywood, paneling, or paint over the concrete.
The walls in this basement living area are covered with sheets of maple-veneer plywood with stained poplar boards covering the seams to create an Arts and Crafts look.
For ideas to transform the walls in your basement, see:
7. Finish Basement Ceilings
You have three basic options for finishing basement ceilings. Conceal the joists, pipes, and ductwork with drywall or paneling, hide everything with a suspended or drop ceiling, or leave everything exposed and paint it with a sprayer.
Drywall brings the polish of main-level rooms to the basement. Here, decorative ceiling beams add depth and architectural interest to the painted drywall ceiling.
For more ideas on finishing your basement ceiling, see:
8. Choose Comfortable, Practical Flooring
Unless you install a plywood subfloor, your basement floor is likely to be a concrete slab. Fortunately, concrete accepts most common flooring choices, from paint to vinyl, laminate, tile, and carpet.
Most solid wood flooring is not recommended for below-grade installations, however, because it shrinks and expands, resulting in gaps or warping. Engineered wood is a good alternative because it shrinks and expands a little less.
For more recommended basement floor options, see:
9. Banish Gloom with Good Lighting
A good lighting plan is key to making your basement an inviting gathering spot. Recessed cans like these create overall illumination as well as task and accent lighting for the bookshelves and artwork.
In addition to recessed lights, consider track lights and pendants to eliminate shadows on surfaces where you'll be working, playing, or reading. Use table lamps and floor lamps to banish shadows in corners and provide task lighting beside chairs and sofas.
For ideas on lighting your basement effectively, see:
10. Build in Storage
The basement is often a catchall storage space for everything from garden equipment to out-of-season clothes, holiday decorations, and memorabilia. As you remodel to make the most of your basement's square footage, plan for attractive, well-designed storage, too.
Here, the area under the stairs goes to work with two little closets scaled to fit the space. Baskets on shelves organize DVDs, gift wrap, and holiday dinnerware. Doors with divided-light windows add architectural style and force the homeowners to keep things organized inside the closets.
For more ideas on building in basement storage, see: