How to Turn a Dark Basement Into the Perfect Finished Space

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Whether you avoid your basement because it's dark, scary, or too cold for comfort, it's a space with loads of potential. It doesn't matter the age of your house; unfinished basements tend to be dreary concrete boxes that are notoriously difficult to decorate. With the right colors, lighting, and attention to detail, your finished basement will be just as usable as any other room in your home.

Decide how you'd like your finished basement to function. Will it be a family room, extra bedroom, playroom, or will it have a dual purpose as a home office and rec room, for example? Consider a partially finished basement where only some of the space is livable instead of renovating the entire lower level. Next, think about these six important tips, and you're on your way to creating a beautifully finished basement.

Apply Color Tricks

If you're painting existing basement walls, you'll probably have a few odd angles, ledges, and exposed pipes that could create a disjointed look. Paint all the walls white, or a light color, which makes many of the lines, bumps, and imperfections recede from the eye. Here are three more factors to consider when it comes to using paint colors in a dark basement.

  • Paint a brick fireplace and paneling on the walls white to brighten up a basement.
  • Keep the ceiling a light color to make it appear higher, whether you're painting it or adding dropped ceiling tiles.
  • Eliminate color contrast and use the same hue when painting the basement ceiling, walls, and floor to make the space appear larger and the ceilings taller.

Layer the Lighting

Because there's limited natural light in most basements, you'll need a lighting plan. Add layers of ambient, accent, and task lighting just as you would in your other living spaces.

For ambient lighting, use recessed lighting, also called pot lights, in your ceiling. It's best for basement ceilings because it won't take up valuable headroom, you can space the lights apart to create even lighting throughout the finished area, and the pots won't create shadows in the room when they're on.

Track lighting kits can be simpler to install. You'll find track lights with short stems for low basement ceilings. A trick to make the area seem larger is to place track lighting along the perimeter of the room so the walls will be washed with light. Fill in the lighting scheme with accent floor and table lamps, wall sconces, and task lamps.

Design the Layout

Remember that finished basements are essentially open spaces, Though the furniture arrangement in a finished basement and a living space is similar, there are a couple of tips to consider.

  • Create a compact seating arrangement around a focal point, such as a fireplace or an entertainment area, just as you would upstairs.
  • It's especially important to add soft texture to a finished basement by defining seating arrangements with area rugs.
  • You'll genuinely love your finished basement if you decorate it with coordinating furniture that unifies the room instead of furnishing it with castoffs from other rooms around the house.
  • Warm up the space with artwork, toss pillows, throws, and a few other decorative elements to help the room feel cozy and inviting.

Soften the Windows

Unless you have a walkout basement with a glass door, the windows in the finished area may be on the small side. Whether you have sliding or hopper (hinged) basement windows, they can be made to look larger using window treatments. Window treatments are also critical for privacy since basements are easily accessible to passersby who might be curious to sneak a look.

Add a heavy drapery from floor to ceiling to cover a tiny window, or mount a synthetic wood plantation shutter that's larger than the window. Both ideas add a cozy feel to your basement. If you rather let natural light come into through the window, sheer shades or curtains are the easiest solutions, requiring a simple curtain rod, or a tension rod that fits inside the recessed window frame.

Finish With Flooring

Choosing flooring for a finished basement is a little tricky, even for DIYers. You could always paint a concrete floor and throw an area rug down, but it may make the finished part of your basement a bit chilly on your feet.

You'll also need to consider the dampness factor. There are plenty of waterproof options available designed specifically for floors below ground level. It's best to consult a professional to determine if you need a vapor barrier, which protects the flooring in a finished space from unexpected ground moisture.

Waterproof carpet tiles, laminate, or engineered wood flooring are all ideal choices for basements. Avoid hardwood, which could warp and buckle, and wall-to-wall carpeting, which could trap moisture and grow mold and mildew, especially if there's a leak or flood in your basement.

Deciding to Use a Professional

Finishing a basement can be as simple as painting the walls and floor, or as complex as adding drywall and heating elements. Before putting anything on the walls or floors of your basement, call in a professional contractor to address ventilation, plumbing, leaking, and humidity issues. Adhering to your town's codes is also important, especially if you're going to use the space as a bedroom, which typically requires an egress window for an emergency exit.