Floor designer

How to Update an Unfinished Basement Without Renovating

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My huge unfinished basement, where I store household supplies, tools, extra winter clothes, and the toys I collect throughout the year for holiday giving, is one of my places favorites in my house. When I moved into the house in 2002, the space wasn’t ideal. It had cinder block walls, basic framing, zero insulation and a substandard plywood subfloor prone to dust and splinters, a hazard for someone like me who likes to walk barefoot.

However, over time I turned it into a utility space (although it’s not the prettiest), and it didn’t cost me much or require a major renovation. Whether you want to set up a personal gym, create a craft area, create a reading nook, or store canned goods, you too can carve out a little extra space. All it takes is a little imagination and some practical advice. Here’s how to start.

Instead of finishing the floor, paint it. Dylan Murray, general contractor and co-owner of Murray Craft Builders in Westchester, NY, covered his concrete basement floor with patio paint. It’s more durable than wall paint, and although it’s usually only available in white or gray, it can be tinted to almost any color. Murray says if your basement is prone to moisture, you’ll want to apply a first coat of vapor barrier, a thick, white paint that will seal the masonry.

You can also install peel-and-stick flooring over an unfinished subfloor or over concrete to “simulate” a finished floor, says Elizabeth Rees, co-founder of Chase the paper, a company that produces removable wallpaper. “You will find a wide range of models and looks. Some imitate tiles, others wooden planks. I opted for dark blue for the basement of my house,” she says. Look for peel and stick vinyl with a matte laminate coating, so it’s both non-slip and easy to clean. Rees says these products are easy to find at home improvement stores or you can order them online. Expect to pay around $1 to $5 per square foot.

Declutter a basement to make room for work, play and relaxation

Another option: interlocking foam mats. This was the solution for my shattered basement. Melanie Musson, Belgrade, Mont., home improvement expert with clearassurance.comcreated an exercise area in her basement using 2-by-2-foot black and gray foam panels, which she estimates cost less than $1 per square foot.

Instead of finishing the walls, hang curtains or sheets to cover them. Musson drove nails into his basement ceiling, then fashioned metal hangers into hooks and inserted a curtain rod to hang large curtains. You can also use tapestries or oversized fabric posters, says a Pittsburgh-based interior designer and home remodeler. Esther Dormer.

Murray suggests using two coats of masonry paint to cover the foundation walls. Another option, if you have a handful of timber framing available, is to install Homasote, which builders use for sound control. “It’s easy to nail into wood, then paint or wrap in fabric and use as a bulletin board,” he says.

In my house, I installed basement blanket insulation, a thick layer of fiberglass insulation covered in white plastic and attached to the walls from floor to ceiling. It may sound strange, but the space is warm in the winter and cool in the summer, and the plastic can be wiped clean with a damp cloth. You may need a professional for installation.

Instead of finishing the ceiling, spray paint it. Rent or borrow a paint sprayer, tape the walls and all major electrical connections with plastic, and spray the ceiling, including the rafters and ductwork, with black or dark gray paint. “It’s a sleek, semi-industrial look that’s not only timeless, but makes the ceiling disappear,” says the real estate agent. JoAnn Echtler of Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania.

Instead of buying expensive light fixtures, buy a mix of floor lamps and plug-in table lamps. You don’t need a matching set, so you can shop at thrift stores and thrift stores to save money. Replace incandescent bulbs with LEDs; they last a long time and new bulbs are available in a variety of brightness levels. LEDs are now also available in light strips, and you can replace hanging bulbs with flat LEDs for a more contemporary look. Stringing in larger exterior lights, such as teardrops or Edison-style lamps, is another option for creating a warm ambiance. “It looks clunky, but it’s actually a pretty look,” says Echtler.

Instead of finishing the space under the stairs, turn it into a storage nook. Freestanding shelves are easy to assemble and come in multiple widths, depths, and heights. Musson has created a pantry under her stairs with metal shelves for her homemade preserves. And if you want to dress up the steps themselves, try painting them. You can add sand to the paint for extra traction or, like I did at my house, apply peel and stick anti-slip strips to each step.

Instead of adding walls to define separate spaces, use tri-fold screens. “They’re stable, sturdy, and work well as room dividers,” says Musson, who uses one she found at a garage sale. Freestanding shelves are another option, or you can consider using overhead curtain rods, which are easy to install and work with curtains and drapes.

Instead of paying top dollar for furniture, buy parts at discount prices. Shop at clearance sections or big-box stores, such as TJ Maxx, HomeGoods, Ross Dress for Less, Target or even Big Lots, says Shannon Vissers, retail and buying analyst for Maverick Merchant. “Amazon also features a variety of inexpensive furniture, and if you buy in the less popular colors, you can often get a deep discount,” she says. “A mustard yellow bean bag can actually be a fun accent piece.” (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Acrylic folding chairs are a great way to add inexpensive yet functional seating, Dormer says. Card tables also work well as flexible furniture. Dormer suggests covering the top with contact paper and a piece of inexpensive glass to personalize the piece.

Denver-based writer Laura Daily specializes in consumer advocacy and travel strategy. Find it on dailywriter.net.