Creating a lower-level entertainment space that’s a treat for everyone.
Story by Tracy Dickinson
Featured in November/December 2021
If your holiday wish list includes more space for entertaining, set your sights lower—on the lower level of your home, that is.
Whether you have visions of a guest room, a game room, or a full-service do-it-all room, our experts have just the recipe.
Start with a healthy blend of practical and playful
Woodharbor’s Jill Lampe says, “Game space is popular. A place for kids to have room to run also doubles as a party space for guests to spread out.”
Nearly every lower-level project involves multiple activity areas, possibly including a bar or kitchen, entertainment area, guest room, bath, or even exercise area. Depending on your needs—and the visions dancing in your head, the right design can achieve multiple goals.
Looking for a space to watch movies or host a crowd for the big game? No problem.
“With the popularity and low cost of sound bars, wireless speakers, and flat-screen televisions, more of the budget can go toward things like riser seating or soundproofing,” says BLC Projects’ Rob Walker.
Lampe says, “Comfort and durability are both important. Soft fabrics, even leather for sofas and chairs, offer practicality in a fun space.”
With more homes designed on walkout or daylight lots, it’s still possible to create a theaterlike space. “You can install blackout blinds that allow for projectors,” says AIM Kitchen & Bath’s Deb Pudenz. “But large televisions are just as popular, if not more so, because you don’t have to have the lights off or blackout the space for optimal viewing.”
The most important element is to make sure the fun fits the family. That could mean gaming space in front of the screen, room for board games, or open space for Ping Pong. “I incorporated a large chalkboard surface for shuffleboard in one home,” says Lampe. “The kids used it for drawing, too. I’ve also installed small ziplines and hooks for suspending swings.”
Add just the right ingredients
Even if most of your entertainment is limited to family movie nights, having access to snacks is part of the fun.
“We do more bars than full kitchens in lower levels,” says Walker, “but that still means at least a sink, refrigerator, and microwave.”
Jean Nichols of Moehl Millwork says, “Wet bars with undercounter fridge and wine storage are probably the most common. But homeowners are getting creative with wine storage options in an island or wall cabinet or built-in hutch. And floating shelves on the back wall are also really popular.”
“Clients want a full-service space that allows for essentials without having to make constant runs upstairs,” explains Lampe. “But they’re also willing to be more adventurous with the decor.”
Our designers are seeing painted cabinetry in dramatic colors, highly patterned quartz or granite for the countertops, and creative statement features like glass-topped bars for displaying mementos, textured stone walls, sports memorabilia, and repurposed items as furnishings or decor.
Mix in a dash of thoughtfulness
Hosting guests for a game or a weekend visit means providing a space they’ll feel comfortable. Often, the lower level is the ideal spot because it offers privacy and amenities while still feeling like home.
“It doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive,” says Pudenz. “Selecting a mirror and lighting in the guest bath that offer more of a statement than a standard fixture or adding bold cabinet or paint color can lift the space beyond your everyday bath.”
Walker adds that it is important to make sure the bath is available to all guests and that the bedroom area remains private. “Sometimes that means separating the rooms completely. But if space allows, the bath can have a separate room for sink and toilet that’s accessible from the public areas while keeping the shower space connected to the guest room.”
“When the design requires the guest bath to serve multiple purposes like that, we recommend built-in cabinetry rather than floating sinks. This allows the space to provide plenty of storage for overnight guests’ needs,” Nichols says.
Lampe says color choice can make a potentially dark guest room feel even more welcoming.
“Soft, natural, light-color neutrals are popular for lower-level guest rooms. Storage is important, too, especially if the room will do double duty when guests are not in residence,” she says.
And don’t forget the floors and the windows.
“Walkout and daylight basements often mean hard-surface flooring—LVT [luxury vinyl tile] or another tile because that’s easier to maintain with in-and-out traffic,” Walker says. “But most entertainment areas incorporate some form of carpet whether it’s for warmth or comfort when a large group is gathered.”
Lampe advises opting for versatile window treatments when they’re needed in a lower level. “Most of the time, you want the space to be open so light can get in and so you have access if it’s a walkout space. But you also want window treatments that can be closed up for movie watching or privacy as well.” •
- Deb Pudenz AIM Kitchen & Bath
- Rob Walker BLC Projects
- Jean Nichols Moehl Millwork
- Jill Lampe Woodharbor