Homeowners dodge awkward basement remodel

By Annie Schwemmer and Ann Robinson

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, Jan. 18 2013 7:57 p.m. MST

A once dreaded, partially finished space in the house is now a beautiful, bright favorite area where a young family spends most of its time.

Kevin Bunnell, Renovation Design Group

Finishing the basement may not be a project that most people think would need an architect. Whether or not there is a “need” depends on a variety of factors.

First and foremost, we tell people as a general rule that if you are changing the structure of the space — i.e. moving walls, windows, doors, stairs, etc. — it is a good idea to consult with an architect.

Not every project needs an architect and basement remodels can be straightforward enough that you and your contractor can come up with a plan. However, basements commonly pose interesting (and potentially awkward) design obstacles.

Many times a basement has exposed pipes, HVAC ducts that result in low ceiling soffits, and utility equipment such as furnaces and water heaters sitting right in the middle of a “would be” bedroom or family room. Such issues can definitely impact the flow and circulation of your lower level and can result in a new layout, which feels awkward or odd.

This is a more typical problem in older homes because the original builder never planned for the basement to ever be converted into living space. However, times have changed. The modern family wants more living space and, even if they are living in an older home, the basement is one of the easiest ways to get that space. Finishing the basement is less expensive than an addition, which makes it a desirable renovation project.

We recently helped a family convert their partially unfinished basement into living space. Joel and Kadi Thompson’s 1960s home was old and outdated. When they moved in, they knew it was only a matter of time before they remodeled the place. With their growing family, they decided the basement was the place to start. They needed more bedrooms and play/running space for their three boys.

Although they had some ideas for the basement remodel, they decided to involve an architect. They didn’t want any wasted space or awkward obstacles that would negatively impact the design.

When you bring an idea to an architect, they will typically draw your version, as well as present other options to enhance your original idea. The architect will also often present an entirely new approach to the situation.

This is what we did for the Thompsons. Through the design process, we were able to create the design they took to the contractor.

Recently, we got the chance to visit Kadi and Joel and see their finished basement project. It was very rewarding to see them so happy with the final outcome. Kadi told us now the lower level is her favorite area of the house. It has a large family room/TV room, a laundry room, a bathroom, and two large, sunny bedrooms for her growing children.

“Everyone who comes to see it just loves it," she said. "Joel and I love it, and my kids love it.”

The family was also able to add a few beautiful features to their finished basement. Gone is the old red brick wall that surrounded the fireplace. In its place is a beautiful new tile surround, mantle and a new, more efficient fireplace insert with cabinetry on either side.

“We also opened up some of the wall at the stairs and added a cool railing coming down,” Kadi says. “The whole thing feels so open and comfortable.”

They also created a new hallway to improve the flow and circulation of this level. With the hallway, you can get to the laundry room without having to go through any other room.

“That hallway is my kids’ favorite part,” she adds. “They just run circles through that hallway and the family room.”

This is why we love our jobs.

Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are principal architects and co-founders of a residential architectural firm focused on life-changing remodeling designs at RenovationDesignGroup.com. Email comments or questions to ask@RenovationDesignGroup.com.

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