How to Finish Your Basement Without Actually Finishing It

How to Finish Your Basement Without Actually Finishing It
Photo: Meghan Moravcik Walbert

So you never got around to “finishing” your basement, but that doesn’t mean it should go unused. If you have a lot of space down there to enjoy, but not enough time or money for a complete overhaul, here are some tips to make it cozier, even when it’s not finished.

Cover any exposed pipes or beams

First things first: An unfinished basement doesn’t have the nice walls or ceilings the other rooms in your house do, but it’s not hard to cover exposed pipes and beams, even if you’re not a carpenter.

You could try a flex wall kit. Some of them even have doors, so you can obscure an ugly water heater, for example, while still having access to it. Even a few strategically-placed room dividers or privacy screens could work. They’re light, cheap, and uniformly-coloured. In short, they’re better than exposed walls. And if you don’t have too many visible pipes or wires, but still have cinder blocks or beams, why not paint them? That you can do yourself.

If you want something even cozier, try tapestries. You’ll be giving off a kind-of Tumblr vibe, but if you take your time picking the right ones, your basement doesn’t have to look like a Spencer’s Gifts. Hang them with a little slack for a relaxed look. Then…

Add the right lights

Bright overhead light typically isn’t the move here. You don’t need your unfinished business blown out for everyone to see. Instead, choose soft, warm lighting.

A few small lamps on side tables will give you enough light to see by, but not enough to constantly be reminded that damn, you really need to finish that basement. Grab some fairy lights, too. They’re ubiquitous now, from “rustic”-themed weddings to college kids’ dorms, but that means they’re cheap, too. The dollar section at Target usually has some, and online retailers sell them in a variety of shapes and hues.

Pop a string of fairy lights into a little jar for a Pinterest-looking centrepiece. It won’t light much up, but it’ll give the impression that you tried — and that counts for something while setting a nice ambiance.

Choose the right comfy furniture

Unfinished basements are all angles, straight lines, and hard concrete. To make the space inviting, you need to balance all of that out with warm, soft, plushy furniture. And I suggest you start with the rug. Bare feet on cold concrete are no fun, but there are plenty of affordable rugs out there that can take an industrial floor to the next level.

It might be hard to convince yourself to ball out on furniture for a basement you swear you’re going to finish one day, so don’t worry about that yet. Stick to the cheap stuff: Order a futon and check the local thrift shop for a nice reclining chair. You’ll want darker colours to make the space seem smaller and cozier, and all the money you save buying low-budget furniture can be invested in throw pillows. Lots of throw pillows. A “cosy” space can stand a little clutter, especially when that clutter is comfy to cuddle with while watching a movie or working from home.

Find the right storage to hide clutter

An unfinished basement is kind of where all your seasonal decorations or tools go to die until you need them. Most of the time, your extra furniture, old bike, and Christmas tree are just chilling down there, making the space a little foreboding and definitely unwelcoming.

Make some of that extra space into storage. Install shelves and hang curtains to obscure the big stuff, like the stacks of boxes containing decorations or winter coats. You could also invest in a few storage ottomans, so you can put your feet up in the new-looking space while hiding the mismatched jumble that doesn’t belong upstairs.

And throw out or donate anything you don’t really need. Make space for the place to be comfortable.

Clean it up

To make the room comfortable, you need more than a soft carpet for your feet. Your nose wants to get in on the action, too. Basements can get grimy, mouldy, and just plain gross, especially if you have heavy household machinery down there or use the room to store outdoor tools.

Dedicate a weekend to cleaning it — really cleaning it. Scrub the concrete, get the cobwebs out of the nooks and crannies behind the pipes, and vacuum up any sawdust or various grime you find. Use air freshener. If you have a window near the ceiling, take advantage of that natural light by thoroughly cleaning the glass and hanging a nice curtain.

An unfinished basement is a terrible thing to waste and you might find that once you spruce yours up and spend a little more time down there, you don’t even want to finish it at all.

Comments

  • When watching House Hunters here in Australia, I have been surprised how most US homes have a basement – even houses that look like single-storey dwellings. Australian homes rarely have a basement. Why do so many US homes have basements? How did this evolve?

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