Burrowing Underground

One of my favorite, and certainly most popular, projects I do is finishing basements.  Every house here has one, originally unfinished, and they constitute hundreds of square feet of free space waiting to be built to suit.  If done properly, they greatly enhance the livability and value of a home.  If done improperly, as this one was, they’re a big fat mess that’s way worse than it would have been if simply let alone.  This basement looked nice at the outset, with the classy french doors and everything, but they were two feet closer, so the pillar at left was in the middle of the hall leading to the rest of the basement.  Worse, as you navigated around the post, you walked through the drain depression, and straight into a sheetrocked-over outcropping in the ceiling, upon which anyone over, say 5’9″ would hit their head.  We decided to chop two feet off the office to move the hall past the post and out of the drain pit, and since we were replacing the oil furnace anyway with gas and A/C, we had all the ducting ripped out and rerouted to make the ceiling flat.

The room in back was the next problem.  About half of it had been excavated post-construction, with a “bathroom” and everything, and it was a shoddy, windowless cave built, seemingly, by lower primates.  A disturbing panoply of  lumpy drywall outcroppings containing various things I’d have preferred not to find, with dimensions varied enough from the original that it couldn’t be properly wedded into one space, I did the best I could.  (I wrote about this phase in a previous blog entitled, “The Appalachian Trail”)   There is a sump pump in the floor in the closet at right, and a ducting run behind the closet at left, so I made them match and used them to help conceal the width/heighth differentials.

This basement happened to be not deep underground and blessed with five windows at grade, along with a drive-in garage just a bit below street level that made hauling materials in and out quite easy, but few are so blessed.  As is often the case, the stairs were both narrow and low, and I had to cut out a landing and split it diagonally (called a “winder” step) to push the stairs back and get proper head clearance, and we ended up replacing the power service to eliminate a big lump in the ceiling at the base of the stairs and relocate the small, but in-the-way, breaker box.  The only lump in the ceiling I couldn’t eliminate was the structural beam and post, so I tarted them up with woodwork, and added a false engaged column against the exterior wall, for symmetry.

The scariest part was the bathroom.  The home inspector had flagged the shoddy plumbing, as well as a “smell,” which is never considered a good thing.  It had even lumpier walls than the rest of the place, and the 32″ x 32″ “shower,” which appeared to be painted-over Formica, was plumbed so carelessly that the faucet and shower head wiggled when touched.  The toilet sat a foot away from the wall behind it and about six inches from the wall beside it, and just for giggles, at a slight angle.  When I took out the walls, they turned out to be pink marble Formica, textured and painted, and the drain from the shower to the toilet ran the wrong way, which could turn out to be pretty disgusting, if you know what I mean.  None of the waste lines were vented, which explained the slow drains, and the cheesy plastic shower pan just lifted right up, unconnected as it was to its “drain.”  Lots of jackhammering ensued.  In addition to expanding the bathroom on two sides to put in a 36″ x 42″ shower and more floor space, I poured a whole sack of leveling compound on the floor to create a suitable substrate for a honed limestone floor, and put in a radius bullnose tile baseboard and plain white subway-tiled shower with a glass band.


  1. nancy says:

    Well, if I were a blogging sort, I’d submerge to this basement and not be seen for days. That’s a great space. Congrats to your lucky brother.

    • cocktailhag says:

      Well, he works out of that office behind the french doors, so he does benefit, although he’s now a bit surly because the internet router doesn’t work too well down there. He and his sons set up the furniture and technology last night, and he’s having a party tonight, so it may just be stress.

    • Yeah, a strategically placed Cheetos dispenser in the computer room would be nice, along with a couple of hooks on the back of the door for an extra bathrobe or two, and an intercom so that Mom can call you to dinner. I’ll bet Jonah Goldberg’s basement isn’t half so nice. :-)

  2. mikeinportc says:

    *clap, clap*

    Nice work! ( Again) :)

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  4. Annice says:

    You did a fabulous job! What a great transformation!!

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