5 Interior Design Ideas to Max Out Your Basement Space
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5 Interior Design Ideas to Max Out Your Basement Space

Here are the five errors they encounter over and over — and how to avoid them.

By Rachel Wolfe
Fri, Oct 8, 2021 10:40amGrey Clock 4 min

EVEN THE MOST casual horror-movie viewers know that basements are where protagonists go to, as TikTok teens would say, “get unalived.” For interior designers, however, the most unnerving part of these spaces isn’t who (or what) might be hiding in wait, it’s often what’s lying in plain sight: their décor.

Too many homeowners treat basements “as a second-class space where old furniture and random junk goes to die,” complained Anelle Gandelman, founder of New York’s A-List Interiors. “A basement is not the place for appeasing your husband with his ugly leather recliner,” echoed West Palm Beach, Fla., designer McCall Dulkys.

Here, architects and designers share five other frequently encountered below-ground blunders and suggest less-frightful alternatives.

1. The ‘All Things’ Space

New York designer Elizabeth Gill lives in fear of families who ask her to turn their cellars into an all-in-one combination gym, playroom, family room, man cave and mother-in-law suite. “Then, I get the stare and a ‘Can you make all that work?’” she said.

Instead: Prioritize. “Determine the most important use of the space and make that the focus,” said Ms. Gill. Any extra living area can be a bonus in a crowded home, she said, “but you ultimately will end up using a space that is functional and complete—not one cluttered with lots of things that detract from the original design.”

2. Fateful Ceiling

A common feature in basements, dropped ceilings suspend large tiles in a metal grid, thereby leaving room to conceal inset lighting, ducts and other mechanicals. But they shave height off a room, contributing to the dreaded cavelike feeling and threatening to behead your taller friends. Other misguided attempts to hide ductwork also bug design pros. Washington, D.C., designer Melissa Sanabria’s peeve is soffits whose bottoms have been painted to match the ceilings and sides to match the walls, creating a two-toned effect.

Instead: According to New York designer Robin Wilson, 8-inch-deep high-hat lights, which need dropped ceilings, are a fixture of the past. Use new, shallow-profile overhead LED lights. Conceal ductwork and pipes in a dropped bulkhead that appears designed and purposeful around the perimeter of a ceiling, advised Bethesda, Md., designer Tamara Gorodetzky. Where a soffit is unavoidable, “paint walls, ceiling and every side of the soffit the same colour so everything disappears,” Ms. Sanabria said.

3. Pall-Casting

Leave the flickering fluorescents to “The Exorcist.” Basements are dark spaces, “and improper lighting creates uneven, shadowy areas,” said New York designer Rozit Arditi.

Instead: Even if you’re going for a moody man cave, “you need good lighting that can be fully illuminated and also dimmed for cozy ambience,” said Charlotte, N.C., designer Layton Campbell. Incorporate a mix of light sources such as floor lamps, table lamps and sconces so you needn’t depend on one overhead fixture, advised Ms. Arditi. Linear, ceiling-tracked LED lights can help lead the way from one space into the next, said Mary Maydan, an architect in Palo Alto, Calif., who installs them with a 90-degree bend as they flow from a hallway into an adjacent family room. “This creates continuity and makes the corridor act as an invitation into the next space.”

4. Neglected Nooks

Irregular areas of foundations are often covered over or turned into closets. “But especially in basements that are largely open, these odd and unusual shapes offer special moments for decoration,” said William Cullum, senior designer at Jayne Design Studio, in New York City.

Instead: Knocking down walls and rejiggering spaces is expensive, so get creative with what you have and use it as an opportunity to try something you’d never risk on the first floor, Mr. Cullum said. For one Oyster Bay, N.Y., basement (shown above), Mr. Cullum made a banquette that conforms to a polygonal footprint, established by the breakfast room above, and installed curtains on an existing steel beam, creating a special reading nook with a cozy, tented feel. “It’s a small retreat within an expansive space,” he said.

5. Wannabe Wood

Dark, dank 1970s-style panelling comes across as hopelessly dated and usually represents a “total departure from the rest of the house” said architect Margie Lavender, principal at New York City’s Ike Kligerman Barkley. Old-fashioned panelling is not moisture-resistant and can be a place where mould grows, added Ms. Wilson.

Instead: Ms. Wilson uses thin brick cladding or dry wall back with cement instead of paper—typically used in bathroom renovations—to prevent mould growth. Stick with light colours to maximize limited light, advised Ms. Lavender, and consider an accent wall of high-gloss tile, in cream or robin’s egg blue, to add texture and reflect light.

Notes From Underground

Strange basement décor

“I got totally freaked out when I walked into a basement that housed an antique doll collection. Cue the scary horror music.” —Layton Campbell, designer, Charlotte, N.C.

“A full barbecue grill with a chimney at one end and a wood-burning fireplace on the opposite side. I can understand a man cave, but to have two fire-generating things in a basement could mean that your house burns down.” —Robin Wilson, designer, New York

“I was asked to help a client display his collection of medieval torture tools.” —Tracy Morris, designer, McLean, Va.

“Every wall was covered with PEZ candy dispensers. It was quite the collection.” —Sterling McDavid, designer, New York, N.Y.

“A toilet in the basement without any sort of enclosure.” —Luke Olson, senior associate, GTM Architects, Bethesda, Md.

“A potential client had a hot tub in the basement. It was odd and immediately felt like some weird castle dungeon with the smell of chlorine and mould.” —Miriam Verga, designer, Mimi & Hill Interiors, Westfield, N.J.

Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: October 5


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Car Dealers on Why Some Customers Hesitate With EVs

Concern about electric vehicles’ appeal is mounting as some customers show a reluctance to switch

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Auto dealers across many parts of the country say electric vehicles are becoming too hard a sell for buyers worried about the range, reliability and price of these models.

When Paul LaRochelle heard Ford Motor was coming out with an electric pickup truck, the dealer was excited about the prospects for his business.

“We thought we could build a million of them and sell them,” said LaRochelle, a vice president at Sheehy Auto Stores, which sells vehicles from a dozen brands in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.

The reality has been less positive. On Sheehy’s car lots, LaRochelle says there is a six- to 12-month supply of EVs, compared with a month of gasoline-powered vehicles.

With automakers set to release a barrage of new electric models in the coming years, concerns are mounting among auto retailers about whether the technology will have broader appeal given that many customers are still reluctant to make the switch.

Battery-powered models have been piling up on car lotsdealers say, as EV sales growth has slowed in the U.S. this year. Car companies have been offering a combination of discounts and lower interest-rate deals in an effort to juice demand. But it hasn’t been enough, because buyer reticence extends beyond the price tag, dealers say.

“I’m not hearing the consumer confidence in the technology,” said Mary Rice, dealer principal at Toyota of Greensboro in North Carolina. “People aren’t beating down the door to buy these things, and they all have a different excuse why they aren’t buying one.”

Customers cite concerns about vehicles burning through a battery charge faster in cold weather or not being able to travel as far as they expected on a single charge, dealers say. Potential buyers also worry that chargers aren’t as readily accessible as gas stations or might be broken.

Franchise dealerships fear that the push to roll out new models will inundate them with hard-to-sell vehicles. Research firm S&P Global Mobility said there are 56 EV models for sale in the U.S. this year, and the number is expected to nearly double to 100 next year.

“I start to think, you know maybe we should just all pump the brakes a little bit,” Rice said.

A group of dealers expressed their concerns about the government’s role in pushing electric vehicles in a letter last month to President Biden.

A Toyota Motor spokesman said the majority of dealers have become “increasingly more confident in their ability to sell Toyota EV products.”

At Ford, the company’s electric-vehicle sales are rising, including for its F-150 Lightning pickup, but demand isn’t evenly spread across the country, according to a spokesman.

Dealers say that after selling an EV, they sometimes hear complaints about charging and the vehicles not always meeting their advertised range. In some cases, customers seek to return them to the dealer shortly after buying them.

“We have a steady number of clients that have attempted to or flat out returned their car,” said Sheehy’s LaRochelle.

While EVs remain a small but rapidly expanding part of the new-car market, the pace of growth has slowed this year. Electric-vehicle sales increased 48% in the first 11 months, compared with a 69% jump during the same period in 2022, according to Motor Intelligence. Sales remain concentrated in a few states, with California accounting for the largest chunk, S&P Global Mobility data found.

The cooling growth has raised broader questions in the industry about whether car companies face a temporary hurdle or a longer-term demand challenge. Automakers have invested billions of dollars to bring more EV models to the market, and many analysts and car executives say they remain optimistic that sales will continue to expand.

“Although the rate of growth has slowed recently, EV demand is clearly moving in the right direction,” said General Motors Chief Executive Mary Barra on a recent conference call with analysts. A combination of more affordable model options and better charging infrastructure would help encourage more people to buy electric vehicles, she said.

There are also varying views within the dealer community about how quickly buyers will adopt the technology.In hot spots for electric-vehicle demand, such as Los Angeles, dealers say their battery-powered models are some of their top sellers. Those popular EV markets also tend to have more mature public charging networks.

Selling an electric car or truck outside of those demand centres is proving more difficult.

Longtime EV owner Carmella Roehrig thought she was ready to go full-electric and sold her backup gasoline vehicle. But after the 62-year-old North Carolina resident found herself stranded last year in a rural area of South Carolina, she changed her mind. Roehrig’s Tesla Model S got a flat tire, but none of the stores in the area carried tires for a Tesla. She ended up paying a worker at a nearby shop to drive her home.

Roehrig still has her Tesla but bought a pickup truck for long road trips.

Tesla didn’t respond to a request for comment.

“I have these conversations with people who say we’ll all be in EVs in 15 years. I say: ‘I’m not so sure. I’ve tried to do it,’” Roehrig said. “I think you need a gas backup.”

Customers who want to ditch their gas vehicle for environmental reasons are sometimes hesitant, said Mickey Anderson, president of Baxter Auto Group, which owns dealerships in Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado.

“We’re in the Colorado Springs market. If this is your sole mode of transportation, and you’re in a market in extremes of elevation and temperature, the actual range is very limited,” Anderson said. “It makes it extremely impractical.”

Dealers representing around 4,000 stores across the U.S. signed the letter in November addressed to Biden, saying the administration’s proposed auto-emissions regulations designed to promote electric-vehicle sales are unrealistic. The signatories ranged from stores owned by family businesses to publicly held giants such as AutoNation and Lithia Motors.

“Some customers are in the market for electric vehicles, and we are thrilled to sell them. But the majority of customers are simply not ready to make the change,” the letter said.

Some carmakers are pushing back EV-rollout plans. GM said in mid-October that it would delay the opening of an electric pickup plant by a year to late 2025. In response to weaker-than-expected consumer demand, Ford said in late October that it would defer $12 billion of planned spending on electric-vehicle investment.

Since September, dealers on average took more than two months to sell an EV, compared with 40 days for all vehicles, according to car-shopping website Edmunds.

While discounts have helped boost sales of some electric vehicles, they also have led to repercussions for some current owners because it reduces the value of their vehicles, dealers say.

“Most people don’t have the confidence to buy an EV and know what it will be worth in 10-15 years,” said Rice from the Toyota dealership.

It may take some time for the industry to adjust because it is still in an early stage of switching to electric vehicles, Sheehy’s LaRochelle said.

“We’re asking for this market to grow organically,” he said.


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