Since 2005, the Driehaus Bungalow Awards in Chicago, IL have challenged homeowners to makeover their homes. Last year was the first to include the new “COVID Creativity” award, a special honor recognizing the efforts of homeowners doing extra renovations thanks to the global pandemic.
The winners of the 2020 “COVID Creativity” award are Alex Dunham and Jennifer Bakija, a couple who stole the show by converting their basement and garage into “an underground Tiki Bar retreat,” WTTW reports. The retreat features an eye-catching, resin bar top, a ping pong table, and several bar stools and cozy chairs where the couple and those closest to them can relax and sip a drink.
The new award is inspired by “people’s houses… pulling double and triple duty this past year,” WTTW continues. “Our homes aren’t just where we live, they’re also where a lot of us work and play these days.”
This peak in home improvements, renovations, and basement upgrades is not unique to Chicago. People all over the U.S. are taking advantage of these months at home to completely transform their basement spaces. Here are some of our favorite ideas.
A Home Office
According to Small Business Trends, “66% of employees [are] now working from home.” Of those workers, nearly half — 44% — are working from home five days per week or more. With a growing number of employees working primarily remotely or mostly remotely, having a designated office space at home is becoming increasingly important and even necessary. To turn your basement into an office, first take a close and honest look at your basement. Do you have adequate space for what you need? Do you have a fast internet signal and reliable cellphone signal? Is your basement soundproof, or will you be able to easily soundproof it in the future?
After answering these basic questions, do not leave the specifics up to chance. Bring in a professional for an official inspection. A professional will tell you what you need to know to finish your basement. They will relay advice about flooring, walls, soundproofing, and waterproofing. Remember that you may need to make fixes and repairs to your basement to meet building codes, city ordinances, and/or HOA guidelines. Your inspector will disclose any repairs you may need to bring your finished basement up to code.
Next, consider the basics: electricity, heating and air conditioning, and lighting. Most basement upgrades — or any upgrades that involve finishing your basement — will require close attention to your basement’s wiring, temperature, and lighting. Unfinished basements may have just a few electrical outlets — not enough for a proper office setup. Similarly, basements may lack hookups for online connections, and they may even lack insulation and heating and cooling systems. Basements may lack windows as well as satisfactory lighting fixtures.
If this describes your basement, plan ahead and plan carefully. “Be mindful of equipment specifications when designing or selecting office furniture so that printers, scanners, monitors etc. are properly placed. It is always better to have a plan for furniture prior to wiring,” Letitia Holloway, interior designer, tells Houzz. Making the room comfortably cool or warm will require installing ductwork. Depending on exactly where you are located, invest in a humidifier to further improve the air quality in your basement. As for lighting, consider adding recessed lighting, wall fixtures, and/or ceiling fixtures to brighten the place up.
Then, strategically place your desk. Pinpoint the best location for your desk. This may be underneath or nearby one of your basement’s lone windows, or it might be at the center, back wall, or focal point of the basement. In addition to any recessed lighting or lighting fixtures, purchase a lamp to illuminate the space near your desk.
Finally, invest in quality furniture. Know where to cut corners — and when it is worth it to pay a little bit more. For example, it is always best to pay a little bit extra for an ergonomic desk chair than to constantly suffer from a sore back day in and day out while you are trying to work. Plus, you may want to consider investing in a standing desk or making time to get up and walk around the basement or house from time to time. Why?
Sitting at a desk all day can cause heart problems, raise your risk of diseases, like diabetes, and even shorten your life. WebMD puts it plainly: “You’re more likely to die earlier from any cause if you sit for long stretches at a time.”
A Wine Paradise
About one-third of couples enjoyed a romantic getaway just over a year ago in 2019. With new strains of COVID-19 ravaging the globe, it may be next to impossible for couples to travel internationally or go on faraway romantic retreats for some time. Visiting a fanciful winery in Italy or France is out of the question for now. Instead of traveling, why not bring the romance to you?
Create your own romantic wine cellar right inside your basement. Start with the practicalities. First, design the ideal environment. Tailor basement upgrades to your needs. If you are finishing your basement and transforming it into a wine cellar, you need to be very precise about the temperature and humidity of the environment. This Old House recommends “a constant temperature between 45 to 65 degrees” as well as a “humidity level between 50 to 70%.” Experts also recommend keeping wine cellars dim, free of odors, and free of vibrations.
Second, purchase only non-toxic paints. Use paints entirely free from volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Paints with VOCs or toxins can seep into the wine, and ruin good bottles. Choose VOC-free paints, whether you are painting the walls, wine racks, or furniture.
Then, insulate your basement. Install wine racks and a wine cooler. Talk to a professional about the insulation needs in your basement. Colder environments may need more insulation, while humid environments may need special insulation that helps waterproof your basement and prevents excess moisture from getting in. Install a wine cooler for wines that need to be chilled and wine racks for wines stored at room temperature.
Add dim lighting, candles, and seating to create a romantic retreat to sit back and enjoy your wine.
As with converting your basement into an office or a wine cellar, basement upgrades transforming your space into a bar will require installing wiring, heating and cooling systems and/or ductwork, and insulation. Once you have the basics down, you can begin making basement upgrades specific to your new bar.
For a fun, at-home bar, determine what materials are best, decide what your ideal space looks like, and establish whether or not you will run with any particular theme.
Start with your materials and/or theme. If you want a rustic bar, use wood and corrugated metal accents. For a more contemporary bar, choose sleek, modern designs, geometric light fixtures, and granite countertops or bar tops. If you wish, hone in on an even more specific theme. Draw inspiration from Alex Dunham and Jennifer Bakija’s tiki bar retreat, or create your own vintage bar, man cave-inspired bar, or farmhouse style bar.
Put the final touches on bar basement upgrades by asking what you want out of the space. Is it just a space to sit and relax? If so, a bar and some seating may be enough. If you prefer a more authentic experience, consider adding a pool table, ping pong table, TV, or dartboard to your home bar.
A Relaxation Center
Bring your favorite spa experience home. Basement upgrades aren’t all about man caves, game rooms, and bars. Recreate the relaxing atmosphere of your local beauty spa by carefully and purposefully finishing your basement.
First, set the tone with color and lighting. When it comes to an at-home spa, it’s all about the atmosphere. Create the perfect soothing ambiance with neutral tones and warm lighting. Taupe, pale green, cream, and gray are some of the best colors for spa basement upgrades. Keep lights dim and choose lights that give off a soft glow.
Next, be sure to pay attention to the details. Talk to someone from your local floral shop about the best flowers and plants for your at-home spa. Stately flowers, like orchids, and lush, green plants, like palms, bamboo, and succulents are most popular. Add a surround sound system to play calming, meditative music. Install towel warmers and/or heated flooring for maximum comfort.
Finally, make it your ideal spa. Brainstorm about this one. Does your ideal spa include a meditation room, a steam room, a private, heated pool, or a Japanese soaking tub? Pick a few key features that make the experience for you, and make it your own.
A Movie Theater
As of October 8, 2020, Regal closed the doors of all its 536 U.S. locations until further notice. Unfortunately, sitting in a crowded movie theater is not something we can safely enjoy right now. Exactly when we will be able to enjoy that privilege again is unclear. Thankfully, there are other ways to get your movie-and-popcorn fix — namely, basement upgrades that turn disused or unfinished basements into stunning home theaters.
Create your own by designating a screen wall, making plans for your sound system, choosing comfortable seating, and getting the lighting just right. Choose a wall for your screen. Decide whether you will purchase a large, quality television, or whether you prefer a true screen and projector setup. While it may be tempting to place seats as close to the screen as possible, make sure to distance chairs and couches somewhat to prevent eye strain and headaches.
Install a surround sound system coupled with sound-insulating walls, like fabric walls.
Complete the room by adjusting the lighting to meet your needs. If your basement includes windows, these windows can put a significant damper on daytime and late afternoon viewings. Invest in window tinting services for overly large basement windows or windows that continue to pose a problem. Keep artificial lighting warm and dim, and consider adding strip lighting for a more authentic look.
A Guest Room
In spite of your best intentions, it is entirely possible that even a house with multiple bedrooms may end up without a guestroom. Over the years, your designated guest room may have turned into a children’s room, an office, or met some other critical and timely need. The good news is that, with some well-executed basement upgrades, you can turn your largely unused basement into a beautiful guest room.
As always, prioritize wiring and waterproofing. Work with professionals. Improper wiring can lead to fire hazards and a lack of waterproofing can result in mold, mildew, excess moisture, water damage, and even flooding. Work with professionals and contractors, like a basement waterproofing service.
Paint the walls all white and decorate with plenty of large, oversized plants for a fresh and roomy feel. Consider adding a small kitchenette and a bathroom to make a studio-style guest room, and give your guests — and you! — as much privacy as possible.
An In-Law Apartment
A growing number of young adults and middle-aged adults are caring for their adult parents. If your parent is unable to care for him- or herself, invite them into your home to supervise their care while maintaining your autonomy and privacy at the same time by converting your basement into an in-law apartment.
Take care of the basic basement upgrades first. Work with an insulation contractor to ward off freezing temperatures, and install new ductwork for a truly warm and comfortable room.
Make senior-friendly improvements. Add an adjustable bed. Fit bathrooms with anti-slip mats or flooring and grab bars. Make sure your in-law has a call alert button or a smart voice assistant to be able to contact you or the authorities without having to physically reach for a phone.
An Organized Storage Space
Sometimes, the best basement upgrades are the most practical ones. If you are running out of closet space and your attic is stuffed full of old furniture and boxes, it is entirely possible to get more storage out of your home. Clean out and refinish your basement to meet your needs.
Whether you are storing extra furniture, items you will need after a move, or products for a side business, like inkjet printer parts, don’t skimp on necessary basement upgrades. It is necessary to waterproof your basement, seal it off from pests, and keep it at a comfortable temperature to reliably and safely use it for extra storage.
Do you routinely avoid your unseemly, unfinished basement? Get the most out of your space and the most of your home with creative basement upgrades. Transform your home into the room you always wanted.