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A couple of weeks ago a reader, Lea, reached out to me with a design dilemma to see if I had some suggestions. Thanks, Lea! You came to the right place. I LOVE doling out design advice that I myself may or may not follow…but I digress. Lea lives in a beautiful old row house with her husband and two-year old daughter. They have an English basement, which they use as their family room AND it has an additional bedroom on the basement level, which is awesome. But the challenge is, like so many DC row homes, it’s narrow and tight. Lea was looking for some suggestions on (1) how to make the most of the space by changing up the layout and (2) what pieces will work in the space as she considers upgrades (she’s ready to move on from some of their “temporary” Ikea pieces). I thought that a lot of you might have similar design issues so I decided to pull together a blog post on the topic. Let’s get into it, people.

small row house basement

They use the space as a family room so it has the TV and a play are for their daughter in the nook by the windows. And when they are hosting nanny share, this room also needs to be nap ready.

small basement before photo

One of their struggles is the placement of the TV in the room because of the fireplace, which they never use.We talked about mounting the TV above the fireplace but Lea was not sure about making that kind of commitment because it requires drilling into the brick, which feels pretty permanent. There’s no going back after that unless you want to paint the brick, which would make it easier to patch. So we thought about putting the TV in front of the fireplace (they are removing that raised hearth), moving the couch back a bit and straightening it out (it’s on a angle in the room now because of where the TV is located), and moving the keyboard over to where the TV is now so that it has some room to breathe and looks a little more inviting.

small row house basement

She also has this vintage armchair (see the photo below) and she was wondering if / how she could work it into the space.

Vintage Armchair

This chair is totally cute and definitely can work. I suggested that she reupholster it (I’m dying to use this blue and white check fabric on SOMETHING) and remove the skirt to make it more modern and light. I think this chair already has casters, but if not, I would consider adding. Not because you can actually roll the chair around on that rug too well but they would look cool and looking cool is the main thing. Ha.

And since we’re in this corner of the room, let me talk about the window treatments for a minute. In this space which is narrow and has relatively low ceilings, I suggest swapping out the curtains for a roman shade. Roman shades create a more tailored and clean look and they will be out of the way when the kiddos are playing over in this nook – no curtains to trip over. I love these shades from Pottery Barn Kids, which are cordless, blackout shades so they are perfect for the play area AND for nap time. I have them in Bea’s room and also used them for Violet’s room (read about the design plan here and wait for the before and after post soon!) and they are very cute and VERY easy to open and close. Also, you can mount those bad boys on the outside of the window and they will look just fine. If you have beautiful window trim that you want to highlight definitely go for an inside mount, but in this case, outside mount will work well.

So here is the mood board that I pulled together for Lea:

Small basement design plan

Let’s break it down a bit. The critical piece in any family room is, of course, the couch. Lea would love to put a sectional or chaise on the basement, but there’s just not enough space. To keep the visual clutter to a minimum but maximize comfort, I really like this couch from Pottery Barn because it has a fairly slim profile, no skirt, and is VERY comfortable (believe it or not but I actually went to the store and sat my butt on this couch and it is awesome. It really helps to do couch shopping in person). The Ikea couch that Lea has now is more traditional with roll arms and a skirt, which adds bulk. And to keep things from feeling too heavy down here, I would go for a neutral fabric with a subtle texture.

Lea was asking what to do about the lighting situation because she knows that multiple sources of light are ideal. But of course with a small room that has kids playing in it half the day, you don’t want a lot of little tables with lamps on top taking up space and creating an obstacle course (In general, I try to keep as much stuff off the floor as possible to make rooms more toddler friendly). Fortunately, this space does have recessed lights in the ceiling so that’s a good starting point. A slim floor lamp like this one works well and scones are also a great option. I would put these Princeton scones on the wall flanking the fireplace (maybe 2 on the left, one on the right?).

As far as paint, I love love love Gray Owl by Benjamin Moore. It is the perfect neutral gray – not too cool, not too warm. Just right. You cannot go wrong with this gray. For Lea’s basement, it would bring a little contrast into the space and break up all of the creamy/yellow/sand color that they has on both the carpet and the walls. And a mirror is always a nice addition to a small, dark room to bounce some light around.

Finally, if there is enough light (I think there is because she has those awesome windows!), add some life to the space with a small tree or a few plants. This will make a world of difference! If you are local, Ginkgo Gardens on 11th Street on the Hill has a pretty nice selection of plants and a SUPER helpful staff. Also Little Leaf just opened on 14th Street and I’m dying to go!! It’s from the owner of Salt & Sundry so I know it’s going to be amazing and I expect that they will have a wonderful selection of beautiful, sculptural plants for your home.

So that’s it! Lea’s family friendly, cozy basement. What do you guys think? Was this helpful? Do you have other design dilemmas you want me to tackle on the blog? If so leave them in the comments! I’d love to hear from you.

Have a great weekend, everyone! We decided to stay here in DC for the weekend and I’ll be meeting up with a few hundred thousand ladies tomorrow and I’m getting pretty excited about it.


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