In days gone by, a suspended ceiling, a bit of paneling on the walls, and a portable television on a TV stand could turn a basement into a "finished" recreation room. When it comes to creating a modern lower level worth using regularly, however, most homeowners demand a higher-quality product.
Ray Pavlovich, a builder and president of Daylight Basement Co. in Suwanee, Georgia, specializes in finishing walk-out lower levels. He offers these suggestions for homeowners who want to turn an under-used basement into prime living space:
Ceiling: Don't install a suspended ceiling -- ever. "They're out," Pavlovich says. "I very rarely see them used anymore, for the primary reason that they make a basement look even more like a basement." Consider tray ceilings as an alternative. Although they're more expensive, they're high-quality and better-looking.
Stairwell: Open your stairwell, and install a banister. Basements typically feature enclosed stairwells, so one way to make your basement atypical is to alter that primary feature. One of Pavlovich's customers chose to extend an upstairs banister into the basement, which he says brings your upstairs downstairs, further disguising a basement's roots.
Doorways: Widen doorways as much as possible, and employ arches and columns to dress them up. "The trick with this is that people don't expect that much attention to detail in a basement," Pavlovich notes. He suggests French doors for offices or for any other room requiring complete privacy. For partial separation, a door with decorative glass brings elegance to the room.
Windows: It's hard to have too many exterior windows. "If you have an opportunity to use a window, take it," Pavlovich stresses. "Make them as large as you can to let in as much light as possible."
Walls: Paneling may be simple, but the refined look of drywall makes it the material of choice for finished spaces. Paneling looks dated and doesn't last long, so it's cheaper in the long run to spend more up front on long-lasting drywall.
Paint: Light-color paint on the walls can make a big difference in the room's ambience. "You usually need the light colors to match your upstairs," Pavlovich says. "And it's better yet to go a couple of shades lighter because it opens and brightens what's naturally a darker area."
Furnishings: Choose furniture that looks as if it belongs upstairs. Mom's old couch is fine if your basement is unfinished, but if you're turning it into a gathering area, you'll want comfortable, pleasant-looking accessories.