As long as there have been finished basements, there have been parents relegating them to their kids as no-holds-barred play spaces. The challenge is to stylishly (and affordably) overcome the dreary elements- the low ceiling, the lack of natural light. We followed the steps taken by interior designer David Harris, a partner at children's-furnishings company Ducduc, as he helped Kristen and Stephen Fealy transform their Westhampton, New York, basement for 5-year-old Stephen and 2-year-old twins Campbell and James. "It was the best thing we've done to the house," says Kristen. "We're all down there all the time now."
Five rules for transforming an ordinary basement into an epicenter of family fun
1. define separate areas
To elevate the space from underappreciated toy graveyard to something Kristen hoped "the kids would look back on with amazement," Harris broke up the boxlike room into separate areas for playing, "working," and lounging. By employing a bold orange and blue palette, he both brightened the windowless space and unified its look. The wallpaper's graphic wave pattern creates the illusion of lifting the basement's seven-foot-eight-inch ceiling.
Onda wallpaper in Nightshades, $300 for a 27-inch-by-15-foot roll, Flavor Paper, flavorpaper.com. Parker play table with paper roll (center), $695, Library storage cabinets (back wall), $385 each, and Art Center easels, $195 each, Ducduc, ducducnyc.com. Monkey poufs, $75 each, Yoyamart, (212) 242-5511.
2. make it fun for everyone
The TV-and-reading spot lets the family enjoy downtime together; for the color scheme, Harris chose acid green (not kelly), which fit both adult and kid aesthetics. Mom and Dad knew the redo was a success when they realized they were hanging out downstairs, too.
Green Jellyfish chair, $400, and ottoman, $230, Quinze & Milan, dwr.com. Parker four-drawer low dresser, $1,595, Ducduc, Ducducnyc.com. Monkey sticker, $36, and Character paintings, $350 each, Yoyamart, (212) 242-5511.
3. plan for the long term
Surfaces do double duty: crafts now, and homework in a few years. Harris installed desks that can be adjusted for changing heights. He replaced this corner's carpet with easy-to-clean vinyl and added cork and chalkboard wall panels for displaying art.
Vika Byske tabletops, $89 each, and adjustable legs, $30 each, IKEA, ikea.com. Panton Junior chairs, $115 each, Verner Panton, geniusjones.com. Cork-tile four-pack, $7, Acco Brands, amazon.com. Chalkboard magnetic paint, $35, Yoyamart, yoyashop.com.
4. make it interactive
The basement staircase is lined with wallpaper preprinted with picture frames, providing the Fealys (Kristen and James are shown here) with the freedom to put their family story up on the wall. Family photos, ticket stubs, and other mementos turn the space into an ever-expanding collage.
Frames wallpaper, $40 for a double 20.5-inch-by-11yard roll, Graham & Brown, grahambrown.com.
5. create private nooks
Large closets can be opportunities for extra "rooms," which give kids a place for art projects, secret clubhouse meetings, and, when outfitted with cushions and curtains, a little quiet contemplation. (Okay, wishful thinking.) To create this nook, Harris tented an existing alcove with fabric.
Fokus fabric in black, $38 a yard, Marimekko, marimekko.us for stores. Junior cushion, $149, and Island cushions, $229 each, Fatboy, fatboyusa.com Character paintings, $340 each, Yoyamart, (212)-242-5511.