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Basement Design Tips

Basements tend to get the brush-off in terms of priority of home projects to tackle. However, they can add value to your home while adding a TON of usable living space. Here’s some tips for good basement design to maximize the potential of your space.

A family space with sofa is shown with built in storage and wet bar behind

Image via: Studio McGee


No matter what you’re starting with, the first task is to make sure your basement is set for being finished. This means you’ve got suitable mechanicals, you have enough head room for usable living space, and the space is heated efficiently.

For us here in Chicago, basement spaces can be super tricky to work with. On the plus side, many Chicago basements get a good amount of natural light, since they’re not usually fully underground. However, this means that ceilings tend to be lower in Chicago basements. The other tricky part about all basements is water infiltration. Depending on your location, a good week of storms in the spring can mean some much unwanted moisture. You definitely don’t want to spend time renovating a basement only to have these issues force you to redo the renovation! Make sure everything is good to go beforehand.

A finished basement is divided by a sectional for a media zone and dining, with storage and extra lighting


Many basements are already one big space. If yours was previously finished with several rooms, you might want to think about opening some of them up again. Portion off or hide your mechanicals and laundry area to avoid the storage room feeling, but give yourself open spaces for the rest.

Zones to consider:

  1. TV/Media Area – In this area, make sure you’re capitalizing on your larger space by using a sectional. This not only makes for an instant lounge feel, it helps set apart the media area of your space visually. Sectionals also help put the focus on the TV, giving this area a definite purpose. Keep spacing of furniture in mind when you plan this area, particularly if you’ve got gaming systems that require lots of movement.

  2. Game Area – This can be a larger game table like air hockey or billiards, or could include a table with chairs suitable for family board games. Or both!

  3. Bar/Kitchen – Not a necessary zone, but if you plan on entertaining large groups in your basement space this kind of area can be really useful

  4. Office – Basement spaces can be a good opportunity for home offices, especially if you’re short on spare bedrooms in the rest of the home. Keep in mind storage options that can keep the space tidy.

A dining or game area of a basement is accented by a dark set of built in storage


Storage is probably the main thing your basement was being used for before the renovation. Unless you have ample closet or garage space elsewhere, you’re still going to need an element of storage post renovation. Built in storage in the basement is a great solution, as it can hide things like games and puzzles that aren’t in use but also seasonal decor, etc. If you still need more than this, consider blocking off a room near the laundry or mechanicals that can be a designated storage space.

a media room tv is flanked with built in shelving, dark wallpaper, and a large cushy sectional

Image via: JRL Interiors


Basements tend to be cold places, both visually and literally. Basement design can be the opposite! Warm up the space with big, cozy rugs and lots of warm lighting. Low ceilings mean recessed lighting is likely the best option for general use, but things like sconces, table and floor lamps can help add that extra layer.

a large tv in a basement is mounted above built in storage units. the ceiling shows dark paneling, helping the room to look taller


  1. Think about the ceiling. Since ceiling height tends to be lower in basements, figure out the best course of action to make your space appear as tall as possible. If you’re going exposed ceiling, paint the rafters and any cords black to make it feel taller. Black objects naturally look further away to the human eye, so painting your ceiling black can be a nice trick. If that’s too dark for you, paint everything white (including the walls!) to brighten the space and make it feel more open. If you’re doing a full sheetrock ceiling, just make sure it’s as high as you can possibly go. About seven feet is the minimum for a living space that won’t make you feel the need to duck.

  2. Don’t leave the walls bare. Dark wood paneling might be a dated design idea, but it certainly warms up a space! Put a fresher take on this by using shiplap, wallpaper, or lots of textural artwork even. Exposed brick can be a lovely feature too. Just avoid plain white drywall, as that can make the space feel much like a storage facility.

  3. If you’ve got the wall space, consider a projector rather than a TV for an ultimate movie theater atmosphere!

Utilizing a basement space can go in many directions, but will definitely be worth the effort. How have you rethought your basement?


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