Create the Illusion of Above-Ground Space

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Make your basement feel like it's above grade with these helpful tips.

Create the Illusion of Above-Ground Space

The real measure of a successful basement remodeling is … that it doesn’t feel like a basement. But that’s not always so easy. Basement spaces tend to be broken up by utilities and obstructions that above-grade spaces don’t have to contend with. Many consist of a series of small, cramped rooms with low ceilings. The climate of basements is often stagnant, with lack of natural ventilation. Mechanical systems clank away in the background. Daylight is severely limited. Here is a list of tips from designers for how to make basements feel like first-floor rooms.

Maximize your window openings

Treat any basement window or glass door you have as gold. Make windows and glass doors the focal points of your newly remodeled  basement space or, at least, don’t obstruct them. If your windows are rusty or rotten, replace them. If you are interested in improving the home’s energy efficiency, install low E-glass basement windows.


Add window wells

Window wells not only allow you to increase the size of your existing windows, but they let in more natural light, too. Light the well at night using a small spotlight so it can be seen from inside. Landscape the wells with gravel, vines, and a bench if there is room.

Lay a floor

If you want to lose that basement feeling, nothing does it quicker than covering the slab with a real floor. Because slabs may be a source of water vapor, it’s not smart to use materials that can get damp, moldy, and musty smelling – such as wood. Interlocking floor tiles are one good solution. They come in many styles, including parquet, carpet, and tile. Made of PVC, stand-offs raise the tiles slightly off the slab for ventilation. If the room ever floods, they can be removed, cleaned, and reinstalled. This article explains in more detail why wood basement floors smell.

Glass doors

If you’re lucky enough to have a doorway to the outside, make sure it’s got as much glass as possible. Walk-out basements are as prized for allowing in natural light as for enabling an easy exit.

Hang a big mirror

The classic solution for any cramped space, a mirror creates the illusion of space faster and cheaper than just about any other trick you can employ. Just don’t use them where kids play…the occasionally thrown block will put some poor little one in the time-out corner! Framed mirrors may be hung as you’d hang a heavy picture. Frameless mirrors may be hung with brackets with mirror adhesive.

Upgrade your ceiling

Upgrade your ceiling

Dropped ceilings (also called drop ceilings) are great if you need access to the mechanical found near the ceiling of many basements. If you don’t need the access, however, upgrade to drywall for a true above-grade feeling. Decorative ceiling tiles are available that look nothing like what you’d normally find in a basement.

Hide the Columns

Hide the columns

Obstructions, such as columns or ducts, should be incorporated into your floorplan in logical ways. A post at the corner of a bar, for example, makes sense. An enclosure for ducts, over the TV stand, does not seem out of place. Obstructions will not always be where you’d like, but try to use them to help define the various activity areas of an open plan.

Don’t skimp on moldings

Add ceiling and baseboard trim to finish your basement rooms. Choose size and profile appropriate for the space. If the ceiling is low, for example, avoid a grand, elaborate crown molding. A 4" molding will make a small room feel bigger, while a 6" molding will make the same room feel smaller.

Upgrade the Stairs

Upgrade the stairs

Nothing feels more basement-like than stairs built of lumber. Add finished stairs complete with railings. Consider changing the design to include a landing and a turn. Many basement stairs terminate facing a wall. Change yours to face a living area. Landings also reduce the risk of injury should someone slip and fall on the stairs.

Effect on home value when you sell

By upgrading materials and making your basement feel like an above-grade space, appraisers and realtors can justify assigning greater value to it. In addition, prospective homebuyers will feel and see the difference, making your house more desirable and less likely to stay on the market for long. Be sure to plan appropriately for the work. These tips can help you plan a successful basement remodel.

Be advised that upgrading a basement is not without its challenges, and problems can arise. To increase your awareness of problems you may encounter in a basement and of their solutions, I recommend that you read this basement troubleshooting guide.

Have any other tips to improve the ambiance of your finished basement? I would love to hear – please comment below!

Joe Provey

Joe is a freelance writer based in Bridgeport, Connecticut. He began his career as a carpenter before moving on to hold magazine editing positions at Popular Mechanics, House Beautiful, The Family Handyman, Fine Homebuilding, and elsewhere. Joe is the author of numerous books on home design and writes blogs for many home improvement and remodeling websites

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