Basement Apartments: Tips for Creating Light & Spaciousness

As the economy continues to putter along, city dwellers are finding cheaper ways to live. While some have decided to move out of the city, others have decided to move below it. Once considered dark and undesirable, English basement apartments are now appealing to those who want to stay conveniently located in the city with a smaller budget. English basements may now be attracting thrifty professionals, but that doesn't change the fact that they're still dark. Here are a few tips on how to make an underground apartment livable and bright.LIGHT: The most obvious solution to counteracting darkness is adding light. Duh. Unfortunately, it's not that simple. Natural light is basically impossible to reproduce. Artificial light does not carry the same airy quality that makes a space seem breathable and open. In fact, adding too much light can, counterintuitively, make a room feel smaller and more claustrophobic. (Think about the fluorescent lights in your doctor's office — it's really bright but its harshness makes everything look ugly and oversaturated.) The unique beauty of natural light is that it's constantly changing and interacting with its environment. To be clear, I'm not suggesting you set up a slow moving strobe light in your living room. Although that would ensure variability, it could also be seizure-inducing and just plain creepy. The best way to mimic natural light is to strategically place artificial light throughout a room so that there are effervescent highlights and lowlights, which create definable areas within a space. This is the best way to make a basement feel lofty. Mixing track lighting, lamps, and up-lighting using full spectrum bulbs will help you achieve this effect.

COLOR: The same principles of natural light apply to color. Brightness is more important than lightness. You can paint the walls white, but make sure there are darker pops of color in the room to create contrast. I do not suggest painting large areas of a basement apartment with a very dark color, but bright colors like burgundy or chocolate brown can work if lighter decor is mixed throughout the interior. Avoid crowding space with busy patterns or colorful wallpaper.

MIRRORS: This is a tried and true method of making a space look bigger. And, you don’t have to install hideous mirrored sliding doors to create this effect. The key is to add mirrors where they make sense, using simple non-fussy frames. Any type of reflective material, not just mirrors, will add to the dimensions of a room. Notice, in many of the examples shown, silver lamps and tables are placed in the center of the rooms. In the example of the kitchen, all of the appliances are stainless steel. The steel continues beyond the appliances to create a full section of the wall below the stove.

DECLUTTER: Making any room clutter free is important, but it’s essential if you live in a space without natural light. Keep counter-tops clean by having ample storage for your things. It’s best to use closed storage so there is a sleek facade. For an example, look at the use of cabinetry in the first picture. Also, don’t feel the need to cram furniture into every available space. Also, avoid cluttering up walls. Instead of having a collage of little pictures, chose a few striking pieces of art that draw the eye to one area. Placing furniture in the center of the room and keeping it away from the walls is another way to make a place look roomy.

DRAPES: Drapes can be used in a number of ways. Bright drapes against a light wall can create that crucial look of contrast. Also, floor-to-ceiling curtains can elongate the vertical space of a room, making it feel less cramped. Another idea for a basement is to create a faux window. Hang translucent curtains on the wall and place a light source behind them to create the illusion of natural light.

FLOORS: These can be used like mirrors. Luminous reflective hardwood (or faux wood, if your basement is damp) will generate dynamic flecks of light throughout a room creating the highlights and lowlights needed to reproduce natural light. Rugs should be used sparingly and, when used, should be light or bright, bringing out the existing colors in the room.

Images 1, 2 & 4: HGTV: 10 Basement Remodels-And Renovations by Candice Olson; 3: Kitchen: Habitually Chic: 2009 Kips Bay Show House English Basement ; 5: HGTV: Room Zaar

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