What to Do With Your Basement: Remodel or Refinish?

Small basement ideas

Whether you’ve recently moved into a new house or have been putting down roots for a while, the basement can often be one of the most underutilized areas in your home. However, remodeling or refinishing your basement can boost your home’s resale value, create an added area for your family to enjoy, or even become the studio or workroom you’ve always wanted.

However, although refinishing and remodeling your basement sound like similar ventures, there are actually a few key differences between the two. Continue reading to discover what path is best for your basement. Plus, our Wheaton handyman experts included 12 out-of-the-box design ideas suitable for either your basement remodel or refinishing project.

The Key Differences Between Remodeling and Refinishing Your Basement

To get the most out of your basement, you’ll likely have to either refinish or remodel the space. Your basement should be one of the most versatile parts of your home. You can transform this dark, cold area into a cozy den, movie theater, game room, or a place to pursue your hobbies. The options are limitless but will require a little work to get there.

When Should You Refinish Your Basement?

If your basement has a concrete floor, no insulation, and is lacking drywall, then you’ll need to finish it. Finishing/refinishing your basement incorporates all the steps that will make the space an actual basement. How much refinishing you need to do will largely depend on the state your basement is in. In many older homes, your basement may be little more than a cellar and require significant work to turn it into a welcoming family area. Alternatively, if you moved into a new build, it’s quite common for the bones of a basement to be in place, but it will be up to you to add in plumbing, electrical, insulation, and drywall.

Refinishing your basement is primarily a cosmetic change, but it can do wonders to increase your home’s value. Whether finished or unfinished, your basement is not included in the square footage of your home; however, completed basements offer a lot of value to prospective buyers. Not to mention, a finished basement will improve your quality of life while owning your home. You’ll be able to maximize the space and actually enjoy your basement—rather than avoiding its chilly, dark, and unfinished interior.

What’s Involved in Refinishing Your Basement?

Typically, a remodeling project is done on an already-finished basement. For instance, if you moved into an older home and the basement is outdated—like wood paneling from floor to ceiling in true ‘70s style—bringing the space up to design speed would be considered a remodel.

Another key determining factor between whether you’re going to refinish or remodel your basement is how much the space’s layout will change. Typically, refinishing your basement is like picking up where the builders left off. Alternatively, a basement remodel is similar to remodeling your bathroom or kitchen. Walls may be knocked down, an outdated den might be turned into a home office space or the ultimate man cave, or you might add a guest bedroom—the options are truly endless.

12 Out-of-the-Box Basement Design Tips

If you’re planning a basement remodel, or want to refinish the underutilized space, these 12 design tips will help bring your vision to life—whether as finishing touches, or a way to avoid breaking the bank.

1. String-Up Fairy Lights

There’s a reason fairy lights are so popular on social media. These delicate strings immediately add a touch of magic to any room. In your basement, fairy lights serve multiple purposes. Hung from exposed rafters, the lights can look intentional while embracing the industrial aesthetic of exposed beams. Available in a range of colors, fairy lights can also change the ambiance of your basement—transitioning a cold, dark room to a glowing, cozy escape. In a finished or recently remodeled basement, fairy lights can also add a touch of personality—creating a unique and relaxing atmosphere for your new space.

2. Lay Down Foam Mats

Foam mats can work wonders in either a remodeled or refinished basement. Soft and spongy, foam mats are a great flooring alternative that’s easily installed over cement. Foam mats are also a great alternative to traditional floors if you’ve turned your basement into a home gym or play area for children. The squishy mats are ideal for catching dropped weights, practicing yoga and Pilates, and providing a gentle surface for little ones. Also, foam mats are available in a range of colors—making it easy to brighten up your otherwise dreary basement.

3. Add Texture with Area Rugs

Foam mats may not be to your taste, or particularly useful if you don’t have a home gym or small children. But you can achieve the same pop of personality and dash of coziness with an area rug. The options for area rugs are truly endless. Whether your style calls for an elaborate Persian rug or a soft lambskin, rugs are perfect for tying in other design elements, adding color to your space, and helping insulate your basement. Often, basements can feel quite chilly. And if your floors aren’t carpeted, it’s nice to have an area rug to walk on—especially during an Illinois winter.

4. Maximize Storage

Your basement is the perfect place to store an array of items, such as those holiday decorations that only come out once a year, spare sporting goods, old baby clothes, and children’s school projects that haven’t seen the light of day in years—but you just can’t seem to part with. However, rather than being the room of your house where miscellaneous things go to be forgotten, your basement can also be an ideal storage solution.

  •  Build partitions to create storage closets in larger rooms
  • Blank walls are perfect for installing shelving
  • Utilize areas under stairs for additional storage
  • Label organizing bins so you know what’s stored inside
  • Install floor-to-ceiling cubbies; keep children’s toys within reach of your little ones
  • Consider ceiling cubbies for additional storage

5. Get Creative with Cement Floors

Most unfinished basements have cement floors. Although you can lay flooring down like tile, carpet, or laminate on top of cement, there are a few creative ways to embrace your cement floors and make them pop.

  • Acid staining is a fantastic way to give your cement floors an utterly unique visual appeal. Using hydrochloric or phosphoric acid mixed with salts, the subsequent chemical reaction stains the floor’s surface.
  • Dyed concrete floors are created by using water-based dyes to change the color of the floor. Unlike acid staining, which yields mottled results similar to marble, the color will be uniform.
  • Painting concrete floors is another option to give your floors some personality. While you have to use a special paint (masonry paint/elastomeric paint will do the trick), the options are truly endless. Use a stencil to make a unique pattern, or get really creative and paint a mural on your concrete.

6. Paint Brick Walls

Many basement walls are made out of poured concrete, cinder block, or brick. Leaving these raw walls as they are can create a cool, industrial look. However, a fresh coat of paint can transform outdated red brick or dreary cement into a bright oasis below your home. Similarly to painting concrete, masonry paint—also known as elastomeric paint—is the best choice for painting brick. Because this paint has a high level of plasticity, it fills cracks well and will coat every nook and cranny of your brick wall.

7. Make Partitions with Curtains

An easy way to divide the different areas of your basement while adding dimension to the space is with curtain partitions. Perhaps you’ve converted your basement into a guest suite. Curtains are an easy way to make the space open while offering privacy at the same time—especially if your basement is not particularly large. Also, as the years go by your taste and style will change. Cloth partitions are easy to swap out for new styles, so you can always have a unique look in your basement.

8. Paint Exposed Beams

Painting the open rafters in your basement ceiling creates a finished look without having to renovate. Additionally, painted rafters add height to your basement since you’re not closing the space off with a conventional ceiling. You’ll also be able to easily access your utilities—making any needed repairs easy to complete.

 If you choose to paint the exposed rafters in your basement, also remember to paint any visible wires, pipes, and vents. It’s important that the paint job covers all visible areas or the aesthetic won’t look uniform. A great option to go with is a slightly off-white color to brighten up the ceiling or choose a color that’s tied into other design details in your basement. For instance, say you have a lovely nautical-esque rug that’s stripped with white and blue. Rather than opting to highlight the white in the rug, why not match your ceiling to the blue? Rather than feeling heavy, you’ll actually pull together the space beautifully.

9. Create a Canopy

If exposed beams are not to your taste, but finishing your ceiling reduces its height too much, another alternative is to create a fabric canopy. Using the beams as support, drape the fabric of your choice across the beams to create a soft, billowing canopy ceiling. The fabric will alleviate the starkness of any exposed beams, pipes, and wires, while also being easy to remove in the event you need to complete any repairs. A common concern with fabric is that it will get dusty over time, but all you have to do is take the canopy down and throw it in the laundry when you notice dust accumulating.

10. Build an Art Studio or Workshop

What do you use your basement for? If right now the answer is, “I don’t really go down there,” then maybe you haven’t maximized the space as much as you could. Building an art studio, workshop, or even an office in your basement could be an excellent way to spend time on your hobbies or boost productivity while working from home.

Should you adapt how your basement is used, make sure you thoughtfully tailor it to your needs. For instance, if you’re working with your hands you’ll need lots of good lighting to see what you’re doing. If you want to use your basement as an art studio, you should also fill the area with what inspires you—like hanging paintings from your favorite artists on the wall. For any kind of studio or workshop, you’ll also need adequate storage for your tools, paints, and/or materials. Shelves and cubbies are a great option, but so are hanging tools directly on the wall. That way you’ll be able to see all your equipment clearly and not waste time digging around for your screwdriver or 10 mm socket.

11. Change the Lighting

Lighting truly makes or breaks a space. Often, basements have limited or cold lighting that makes the space feel uninviting—especially because most basements don’t have access to much natural light. Swapping out light bulbs for a warm tone, installing sconces, and even adding table lamps can transform a clinical space into a cozy one. The more lighting fixtures you have, the more control you have over the light within a room. Another tip is to install an overhead dimmer light. Bright does not always mean better in a basement. Perhaps a cozy soft light would be ideal for cuddling up with your family and watching movies instead.

12. Leave the Utility Room Be

Whether you decide to invest in a basement remodel or refinishing project, what’s most important is to leave the utility room alone. The utility room is the area where important faucets in your home’s HVAC and plumbing system live, such as your furnace, and sump pump. Often, homeowners might use this area for additional storage. However, it’s really important to leave this part of your basement unfinished. For HVAC systems to work safely, they need to be free of clutter and debris. Also, many basements have drains in the floor that are meant to help protect your home against a flood. This too needs to be easily accessible; so, do not install flooring in your utility room. Ensuring this area is easy to access for plumbers, HVAC technicians, and contractors is of the utmost importance, so it’s best not to worry about changing it.

Need Help With Your Basement Remodel or Refinishing Project?

Whether you decide a basement remodel is the best choice for your home, or you want to finish up the space so it can be used by your family, you’ll need help to bring your project to life. Even for the DIY-inclined, installing drywall, flooring, and doors in your basement are jobs best left to the professionals at Mr. Handyman of Wheaton-Hinsdale.

To learn more about how our service professionals can help your next basement remodel project, we invite you to give us a call today or to request a service online.