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  • Gail Jacobson

A "Craft Brew" Basement Remodel on a Pilsner Budget

When our clients, A young family in a northern Twin Cities suburb, purchased their home in a new subdivision, they elected not to finish the basement. Three years on, they contacted a contractor friend for an estimate, and were surprised (but happily not deterred) by how much the project they wanted would cost. The truth is that, had they finished the basement prior to moving in, their costs would have been lower, but the result would have been a “remodel waiting to happen”. Here's why:


  • The builder’s original bath plan was cramped and the plumbing rough-ins spaced too close together.

  • There was no provision for the kitchenette they wanted.

  • The layout of the larger rooms wouldn't have met their family’s needs.

  • The fixtures and finishes would have been standard “builder grade” – low cost and uninspiring.

  • In short, they would have had to "make do", and eventually would have remodeled the finished spaces that just didn't work for them.


By waiting, they were able to tailor all aspects of the project: room sizes and configurations, plumbing locations, fixtures, and finishes, to exactly fit their lifestyle and growing family’s needs.


Still, funds were not abundant. We were charged with designing a warm, welcoming,

no-fuss family room, a ¾ bath, a combination guest bedroom/office/workout space, and a bar/kitchenette - with modestly priced fixtures and finishes, and prefabricated items where possible. For the bar/kitchenette, our clients knew that the IKEA price point would maximize their budget. They gave me a preliminary plan and product list from an IKEA designer, and asked me to make it better. Compromises were made, of course; limited SKU’s (common with stock cabinets) necessitated some creative juggling. But rather than go over budget with custom cabinets, our clients opted for a custom "look" - a combination of stock cabinets and some invaluable professional creative design. It turned out to be a wonderful decision.


Without a budget for “high design”, details matter. Here are some design hacks that we used to add style for a modest investment:

  • We framed the exterior backyard wall from the top of the foundation ledge to the ceiling, resulting in a space that feels more like a first floor room than a basement.

  • We framed an extension of a large mechanical soffit over the kitchenette - all the way to the backyard wall. This adds architectural interest, gives the kitchenette a “home”, and provides an opportunity for additional lighting.

  • We relocated the toilet and sink rough-ins, allowing for a far more spacious and gracious bathroom, including a large vanity that could be centered on the wall.

  • We specified classic two-panel, Shaker style doors and simple trim, enameled in Sherwin Williams Snowbound. We added playful turquoise and copper hues on the walls for warmth and contrast.

  • We chose a modern, taupe-brown luxury vinyl plank floor and a taupe carpet that beautifully compliment the dark IKEA cabinets and white quartz countertops.

  • Each element, chosen thoughtfully, elevates the design.

It's common sense that finishing a lower level adds resale value to a home. But the value that warm, welcoming spaces provide - joy, comfort, and the ability to gather together - is immeasurable. No matter the budget, what grounds successful projects – projects that meet the needs of their owners - is always thoughtful, creative design.


Top row, left to right: The finished kitchenette; A view towards the hallway; Th bath/storage hallway

Bottom row, left to right: The hallway and stairs; The bathroom; The unfinished space

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