Top Six Basement Spaces

From media rooms to home offices to bars, get tips on transforming your basement.


Photo courtesy of Design Your Basement

Photo courtesy of Design Your Basement
By: Karin Beuerlein

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Deciding how you will use your basement will determine how you approach design. "There's no right or wrong way to set up your space, but you do have to focus on what you want most," says David Schrock, owner of Basement Ideas. "Basement real estate is limited, so be prepared to make compromises."

You may have your heart set on a home gym, guest bedroom and office, but do you need separate rooms for all those functions? If your budget or space is tight, you'll need to decide what your highest priority is and work your way down.

Mega Media Rooms

Most homeowners like to create a large multipurpose media area rather than chop up a basement space into little rooms. Use these universal tips to get started:

  • Don't put viewing screens near a window.
  • It isn't necessary to have high ceilings in a media room because you'll mostly be seated when you're there.
  • You can create platform seating to increase visibility just like in a movie theater, with the second row of seats raised up behind the first. Theater seating can get pricey, but the platform won't add much expense to the budget.
  • True aficionados of sound and video should consult a home theater expert or audio/video retailer for speaker placement and proper distances from seating before settling on a spatial arrangement.
  • You'll want to insulate the walls of a media room, not just the exterior walls, to dampen sound.

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Personal Gyms

These spaces tend to trip up homeowners. "You have to be careful if your basement has a lower ceiling or soffit because your exercise equipment may not fit," David says.

The first order of business is making sure the equipment can come down the stairs. "If it's welded together and your stairs make a 90-degree turn, it may not happen," says David. Measure the equipment first and make sure it's bolted together rather than welded so it can be disassembled.

Next, make sure you have the proper ceiling clearance in the basement. The important measurement is the equipment's height with you on it. Pull-up machines and treadmills are the biggest culprits because people forget to account for their own height above the machine.

Home Offices

This should ideally be the same size as a bedroom, but keep in mind that if you add a closet, it actually is a bedroom according to code and will need an egress window.

Because home offices don't have the same privacy needs as a bedroom, use a double set of French doors on basement offices to maximize light and keep a feeling of openness.

Guest Suites

Building code standards consider a room to be a bedroom when it contains a finished closet, meaning the drywall, trim and doors are up. If you have a bedroom in the basement, you must have an egress window no more than 44 inches off the ground. You can create a step up or enlarge the window if necessary to meet code.

Try to place the bathroom adjacent to the bedroom with a direct entrance from inside. "I look for as much privacy for the entrance as I can get," he says. "Place the door in front of the sink or shower, not the toilet." And tuck the entrance away out of traffic.

If you install a shower there needs to be enough ceiling clearance to lift your arms without hitting anything, and you need a fan to exhaust to the outside.

Bars and Wine Cellars

Keep in mind that installing a bar is the same as installing a new kitchen without appliances, so your expense will be comparable.

If you don't need the full bar, a less pricey alternative is to put in a horizontal bank of cabinets that you can use as a buffet and add a fridge. Choosing cabinets from a big-box store or a modular furniture retailer can shave your costs considerably.

But if you pine for a classic basement bar or wine cellar, determine your maximum budget and work backward to determine what features you can and can't live without. "The sky's the limit on bar budgets," says David. "Price your options carefully."

Basement Apartments

Looking for a new income stream? Putting in an apartment is no different from finishing out any other type of basement space. Check to see if your neighborhood is zoned for multifamily residences.

Hiring a general basement contractor for this type of project is important to ensure that the right permits are procured and all components meet code.

Next Up

Basement Bathroom Ideas

Using available space to build a basement bathroom will cut down on expenses.

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