Lower Levels and Bonus Rooms

Basements offer opportunities to multiply your living space—but where do you start?

“So many of our clients, when they first come in the front door, they really don’t have any clue on how to get started with their lower levels,” says Keven Schmidt of Dream House by Dream Kitchens. “We start by sitting down and helping them figure out what they really want out of that space, because it’s different for every family. Forget about what you’ve maybe seen in a magazine—how do you picture using it?”

For some, it’s about creating a quiet, serene retreat, maybe something with a yoga studio or spa vibe, or perhaps an inspirational, energizing workout space. Others want a dark, cozy man-cave thoroughly hardwired with the latest and greatest technology. Maybe it’s about having a fun place where kids want to congregate, or the ability to host overnight guests in style and comfort.

“We’ve seen everything from a very minimalist approach to totally outrageous, in the best way,” says Schmidt. “Our job is to match what they can afford to spend with what their requirements are for living.”

Dream House by Dream Kitchen is now Dane County’s largest interior remodeling firm, with about forty crews in the field and a massive showroom expansion just this month. Dream House and its designers recently won several awards from Chief Architect, a national 3D architectural home design software company, including first place in basement spaces for a project designed for a retired couple with eight grandchildren. The award-winning project featured cave-style beds built with arched drywall openings, built-ins for the toys, a mini kitchen, a game table, three or four televisions, and a big fireplace for family gathering.

That house was only about ten years old, which is not the case for many of the inquiries Schmidt gets from homes in, say, Nakoma or Shorewood. Typically those homes are eighty to one hundred years old, with cement floors and  low-ceilinged basements. But that doesn’t mean lower level remodels are out of the question for those types of homes.

“In one house we actually took twenty tons of concrete floor out, dug down four feet and poured a new floor to get that height,” says Schmidt. “In another, we ended up finishing the walls in drywall and spraying the ceiling black—the visible floor joints, rafters and duct —and using it as a ceiling.”

For smaller budgets, the focus typically emphasizes design over construction. In designing the black-ceiling space, for example, Schmidt’s team created a warmer atmosphere with pine paneling and art-deco lights, galvanized lamps that would have been popular in the 1940s. They also replaced the standard basement windows with operable, updated windows to let in air and natural light.

Getting creative is key. When renovating a basement in one house, Schmidt and crew took an exposed basement bathroom (common in homes built during the 1930s and ’40s) and built locker-room style paneling to resemble a beach shanty, then designed the rest of the basement around the beach house theme.

Software allows designers and homeowners to work together using existing spaces and furniture, quickly creating and amending ideas with the click of a mouse.

“It’s an art,” says Schmidt. “Our whole goal is to give the customers the dream, no matter what room it is.”

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