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Basement Living Space

31 Professional Tips for Turning Your Basement into a Living Space

October 28, 2020

When COVID first hit, we were on the edge of summer. Those of us who were lucky to have outdoor space could make the most of it. This allowed us to hang out with our family and or a few friends in a socially distanced way.

Now winter is coming. We're moving inside again, and for many of us, our homes have become where we live, work, and go to school. For some of us, our homes have become multigenerational abodes, including parents or others to increase housing budgets and allow for easier coordination of quarantining and family bubbles.

With space at such a premium, we need to make the most of every square foot. Here are 31 professional tips for how to convert a basement into more living space.

Discover Hidden Space

  1. Commit to a full transition of the basement from storage to living. Many of us tend to treat our basements, even finished ones, as a dumping ground for things we're not sure what to do with. Changing the use of the basement means you need to commit to clearing out the space as best you can.
  2. Team up with a professional organizer to help you go through your belongings and declutter the excess. They can assist in moving out unneeded items and help you optimize your space so you can create the basement of your dreams!
  3. Hire an auction company like Transition Squad or MaxSold to help you downsize, valuate and sell your unwanted belongings.
  4. These days, where many organizations and companies won't accept donations anymore, or have severely limited what can be donated, you will likely need to move things into storage. Overflow storage at Bluebird in the GTA is your best bet and help you easily create more living space.

Planning Your Layout

  1. Start with an inventory of your home needs and make a plan for the space you have. Every family's needs are different, and of course homes have very different layouts and space constraints. The first step is to assess how the entire home is being used, and decide what to do with the basement.
  2. Engage your family and/or housemates in the process. For a room transition to succeed, you will need buy-in from everyone you live with. Otherwise, there will be a tendency to revert to traditional uses. Will it be a new office? A place for school? A newly needed bedroom? Or a place to hang out? Being clear on what's most needed is the first step to a successful space transition.
  3. Hire an interior designer such as Orsi Panos Interiors to professionally plan out your space. With studios in Whitby and Toronto this design firm can create fresh, livable spaces tailored to your unique needs and preferences.

Renovation Considerations

  1. How much finishing work does the basement need? Once you've decided on what the space will be used for, you can decide how much of actual construction work you may need.
  2. Make sure you think about safety. Realtor Blair Buchanan of Royal Lepage Royalty reminds us that you must have two ways out of a basement for escape. As well, in most municipalities, if the basement unit has a kitchen, it should not have a stove in it, unless the unit is considered legal and has had municipal fire services inspect the unit.
  3. If you put in a bathroom put in a full one. Realtor Sarkis Harmandayan advises it's best to consider putting in a three piece – one with a toilet, a full sink, and shower and/or tub. It will be a better investment in the long term, give you more flexibility, and be better for resale.
  4. Plan for how isolated or accessible the space needs to be. Depending on how you are using your new basement space, it may be necessary to think about how open it is to the rest of the home. Is the space meant for a private bedroom or potential isolation space? You may want to put a lock on adjoining doors.
  5. Many basements can be dark, cool and damp. Mike Hart of Hart Renos recommends investing in windows and good flooring and suggests that quality under pad and proper insulation is a must. Hart says that windows should be as big as the architecture will permit and depending on budget adding a gas fireplace and heated flooring would add to bringing the warmth downstairs.
  6. Let there be light. Many basements can feel very closed in and dark, so think about lighting when you're redesigning yours. Lianne Harrower of Chichi Fringo Designs & Decor helps clients figure out how to maximize the light from natural sources. For most basements you'll want to plan for the kinds of lighting to fit the task at hand. Think about layers of light including ambient lighting and accent lighting.
  7. Prepare to plug in. In this time where everyone is virtually working and distance learning at home, being able to easily plug in your phone, tablet, laptop and other electronics is important. Both for convenience and for keeping the peace in the family. Plan carefully where electrical outlets go, and plan for a few more than you think you need.
  8. Consider carpet. The trend these days it towards wood and vinyl flooring, and both those options are excellent. For basements which can be cooler temperature wise you might want to consider what kind of carpeting you need. A well-chosen area rug or even wall to wall carpet can add to the warmth of the space, both figuratively and literally.
  9. Add some ceiling height. You may want to consider expanding the space vertically by adding some ceiling height. You would be best to hire a professional as this would require cracking the concrete, digging up and removing the dirt, and putting in a new floor. You can also create the illusion of height through the use of tall, skinny bookcases and low furniture. Painting your walls and baseboard can also have the same effect.

Home Storage Solutions

  1. For items you can't or don't want to put into storage, consider a layout that will provide some storage options.This can include built in shelving units, closet spaces, and easily accessible dual-purpose furniture that includes storage. And Linda McFarlane from Smart Shelving says basement storage doesn't have to boring! Consider creating custom storage cabinets/shelving that co-ordinates with your living space. Whether it's an entertainment unit, stand-alone cabinet or laundry room storage, you can find lots of options for any style and budget.
Beautiful Shelving
Credit: Linda McFarlane

Furnishing and Decorating your New Found Living Space

  1. Consider how items in different parts of the home that are under-used can be moved and incorporated. Making a transition in one space of your home doesn't mean you necessarily have to go on a big shopping spree. Professional Organizer, Kimberly Ogborne of My Canadian Home suggests that we look around our homes as many of us have items of furniture that are under-used in some spaces and can be moved and repurposed.
  2. Invite your patio furniture inside! If you had summer furniture set up outdoors, you may be able to use some of that in your new basement space.
  3. Make an inventory of what else you need to make the space work. Do you need an extra couch? An extra bed? Another TV? Make a list of what you need and do some online research about where you may be able to get these items and have them delivered as safely as possible.
  4. Plant it! Melinda Lemay owner of Chez Fleur knows the right plants can add so much to a space – making it look nicer and cleaning the air. When used strategically, plants can also make a space look bigger. Well placed sprawling plants, for example, can expand how you look at a space. You can also use plants of different sizes placed at different levels to add a new dynamic.
  5. Wall decor can make your basement space feel cozy and comfortable. Mirrors can brighten a room and create the illusion of more space. Pick a theme and get creative and install a gallery wall of many different sized shaped and coloured frames. Aside from your favourite original art you can also display musical instruments, movie posters or your collections of treasured items on floating shelves.

Beyond the Basic Basement

  1. Always wanted your own wine cellar? Toronto-based Papro Wine Cellars & Consulting can help you design and construct a wine cellar in your basement to show off your impressive wine collection and channel your inner sommelier!
Beautiful Wine Cellar
Credit: Papro Wine Cellars
  1. Get healthy, stay healthy. With most public fitness locations closed staying in shape inside will be easier if you set up your own home gym or private fitness studio. Toronto based Foremost Fitness can help you design your workout space and tailor it to your specific needs.
  2. Create the ultimate movie theatre experience without ever leaving your home. Toronto Home Theater is in the business of designing the home theater room you’ve always wanted. Watching movies and sports with surround sound is a treat we all deserve these days.
Beautiful Home Theater
Credit: Toronto Home Theater
  1. Create a flex room in your basement which is essentially an area that is multi-functional. This design is flexible and the room can be used for many different purposes such as a playroom, home office or craft room It can be utilized in different ways throughout your time and life in the home.
  2. Build an engaging play space for your kids! Connie Huson is a playroom consultant in Toronto and can help you create a fun and organized space for your kids to play and learn. Connie uses her teaching background to also help families set up optimal virtual school and homework areas.
Connie with Kids in Playroom
Credit: Pictonat Photography
Tall Bookshelf
Credit: Elle Sikorski
  1. Create a music room in your basement. The aspiring drummer in your home can bang out some tunes and release their inner rock star in their new music studio! Home recording studios are trending and musical instrument sales are having record years according to Ronn Dunnett of Dunnett Classic Drums, a boutique custom drum maker based in British Columbia. Fender Guitars is also seeing unprecedented sales of guitars as people are rediscovering their desire to play music while hunkering down in their spaces.
Music Room with Ronn Dunnett
Credit: Dunnett Classic Drums
  1. What could be more Canadian than Hockey? How about your own hockey rink in the basement? How cool is that! Brampton-based Canadian company Synthetic Ice Solutions is a manufacturer of synthetic ice surfaces that are perfect for residential and commercial use. Their rinks require no water or electricity and are custom built to your space. Your synthetic ice rink is installed in minutes. Lace up your hockey or figure skates and practice at home all year round no matter how hot or cold it is outside!
  2. Get crafty and design your own home art studio in your basement. Imagine a dedicated space to work on your craft. You may even decide to turn your hobby into a small business one day just like Potter Brenda of Pottery By Brendalee did!
Pottery Room
Credit: Pottery By Brendalee

Make Your Basement More Profitable

  1. Make your space more livable and help pay off the mortgage faster! One of the best reasons to create a legal, rentable space in your basement is the income it can generate. Broker Lindsay Smith at Keller Williams Energy advises with mortgage rates being as low as they are a basement apartment rented at $1,500/ month is enough extra income to support a $350,000 mortgage. With real estate prices increasing yearly this extra help paying the mortgage is a bonus to first time buyers, or to retired couples looking to offset their retirement income.

The bottom line is that there has been no better time to consider how you're making the best use of the space you already have. In most homes, basements can add between 400-1000 square feet of living space. Making the most of that space will be an investment in your home, and expand your comfort not only during this challenging time but for many years to come.