Tile flooring

Getting Started With a Basement Renovation – Literally

When Polina Keyhayova embarked on a basement renovation that would include a plunge pool of cold water, she assumed the feature would be the domain of her partner and her sauna-loving cohorts. Instead, it has become an oasis that everyone enjoys.

Several years ago, Keyhayova bought a circular wooden sauna as a birthday present for her partner, whose childhood home in Germany had a sauna in the garden. Shortly after erecting it in their Cambridge yard, friends and colleagues came calling. Some are Europeans for whom sauna culture is the norm; others are converts who first discovered saunas on vacation.

Next is the cold water pool made of a rainwater collection tank which Keyhayova’s partner and friends climbed into after basking in the heat. For Keyhayova, the makeshift pool was an eyesore. So when it came time to complete their dungeon-like basement, Keyhayova suggested they build a plunge pool accessible from the backyard. Samuel Kachmar, director of local architecture firm SKA (kachmardesign.com), loved the idea.

The city of Cambridge was dubious. “They were like, ‘What do you want to do?'” Kachmar recalled. After installing a French drain around the perimeter of the basement to ensure that groundwater did not seep in, the crew cut and hammered the concrete floor, then laid the foundation for the pool and the circulation system pipes.

The 5 foot deep pool has a navy blue glass mosaic tile interior and a limestone tile surround. “When the light hits the glass tiles, the pool sparkles,” Kachmar said, comparing it to how sunlight hits pool water outdoors. The walls are made from western red cedar, a material that can withstand water, and frame the 13-foot-long pool.

Although the plunge pool has a heater, the owners did not originally plan to plug it in. But, as the project grew – there’s also a built-in western red cedar bench for lounging and a walk-in shower with sliding glass doors – the prospect of having a heated plunge pool is become attractive to Keyhayova. With her partner’s blessing, she sometimes flips the switch.

Although going from dry heat to cold water isn’t her thing, Keyhayova likes the heated option, as does the couple’s 13-year-old daughter. It is even popular with sauna enthusiasts.

“Our basement turned into an amazing little self-contained spa,” Keyhayova said. “It’s a nice surprise.”


Marni Elyse Katz is a regular contributor to Globe Magazine. Send your comments to [email protected]