Color, lighting transform a basement

The Baltimore Sun

We use our large basement mainly for storage and are now considering transforming it into a fully equipped media room.

At the same time, we'd like to create the look of a family room, though not as a reincarnation of the old-fashioned club basement. Can you give us some initial ideas?

Sure, start by making a list of everything you want to include in the media/family room. Let it be all-inclusive since you'll almost certainly have to make cuts, and it's best to sift through as many options as possible in deciding on final choices.

Next, consider how best to arrange the furniture you want to use in the available space. Then you can move on to the really crucial factors: color and lighting.

It's essential, by the way, to proceed in this order. You've got to know where the electronic equipment and seating will be situated before deciding on the types of lighting to be used.

Because it's a basement you're remodeling, there may not be much natural lighting. Take care, then, not to use dark colors or sharp contrasts. Counterintuitively, perhaps, you should also refrain from flooding the space with electric light.

Proper lighting -- and not just in a basement -- should encompass an array of fixtures and functions. Ambient, task and accent lighting must be part of most settings, with attention paid to the sort of mood one wishes to create in a particular space. And please note that I'm using the term "task lighting" in this context to refer to ways of illuminating art, accessories and shelving as well as desks and reading areas.

In the lower-level space shown in the photo, brightness is achieved mainly through the use of pale wood paneling on the stairway wall and matching wood treads and risers.

The rest of this interior, including the typically low ceiling, is painted a bright white. Note too how the light-gray floor blends with the monochromatic color scheme to enhance a seamless design.

The photo is taken from Basement Ideas That Work, a Taunton Press book written by Peter Jeswald. It's a source I recommend you consult as you plan your own remodeling project.

And while you may not choose to install a dramatic stairway, the one pictured does deserve comment.

The contemporary, almost industrial-style balustrade is a combination of steel uprights and cables with a darker wood hand railing. Going down such a stairway, no guest would think they are entering a club basement.

Rita St. Clair is a Baltimore-based interior designer. Readers with general interior design questions can e-mail her at

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