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


This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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Anger Does a Lot More Damage to Your Body Than You Realise

We all get mad now and then. But too much anger can cause problems.

Fri, May 24, 2024 3 min

Anger is bad for your health in more ways than you think.

Getting angry doesn’t just hurt our mental health , it’s also damaging to our hearts, brains and gastrointestinal systems, according to doctors and recent research. Of course, it’s a normal emotion that everyone feels—few of us stay serene when a driver cuts us off or a boss makes us stay late. But getting mad too often or for too long can cause problems.

There are ways to keep your anger from doing too much damage. Techniques like meditation can help, as can learning to express your anger in healthier ways.

One recent study looked at anger’s effects on the heart. It found that anger can raise the risk of heart attacks because it impairs the functioning of blood vessels, according to a May study in the Journal of the American Heart Association .

Researchers examined the impact of three different emotions on the heart: anger, anxiety and sadness. One participant group did a task that made them angry, another did a task that made them anxious, while a third did an exercise designed to induce sadness.

The scientists then tested the functioning of the blood vessels in each participant, using a blood pressure cuff to squeeze and release the blood flow in the arm. Those in the angry group had worse blood flow than those in the others; their blood vessels didn’t dilate as much.

“We speculate over time if you’re getting these chronic insults to your arteries because you get angry a lot, that will leave you at risk for having heart disease ,” says Dr. Daichi Shimbo, a professor of medicine at Columbia University and lead author of the study.

Your gastrointestinal system

Doctors are also gaining a better understanding of how anger affects your GI system.

When someone becomes angry, the body produces numerous proteins and hormones that increase inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation can raise your risk of many diseases.

The body’s sympathetic nervous system—or “fight or flight” system—is also activated, which shunts blood away from the gut to major muscles, says Stephen Lupe, director of behavioural medicine at the Cleveland Clinic’s department of gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition. This slows down movement in the GI tract, which can lead to problems like constipation.

In addition, the space in between cells in the lining of the intestines opens up, which allows more food and waste to go in those gaps, creating more inflammation that can fuel symptoms such as stomach pain, bloating or constipation.

Your brain

Anger can harm our cognitive functioning, says Joyce Tam, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. It involves the nerve cells in the prefrontal cortex, the front area of our brain that can affect attention, cognitive control and our ability to regulate emotions.

Anger can trigger the body to release stress hormones into the bloodstream. High levels of stress hormones can damage nerve cells in the brain’s prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus, says Tam.

Damage in the prefrontal cortex can affect decision-making, attention and executive function, she adds.

The hippocampus, meanwhile, is the main part of the brain used in memory. So when neurons are damaged, that can disrupt the ability to learn and retain information, says Tam.

What you can do about it

First, figure out if you’re angry too much or too often. There’s no hard and fast rule. But you may have cause for concern if you’re angry for more days than not, or for large portions of the day, says Antonia Seligowski, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, who studies the brain-heart connection.

Getting mad briefly is different than experiencing chronic anger, she says.

“If you have an angry conversation every now and again or you get upset every now and again, that’s within the normal human experience,” she says. “When a negative emotion is prolonged, when you’re really having a lot more of it and maybe more intensely, that’s where it’s bad for your health.”

Try mental-health exercises. Her group is looking at whether mental-health treatments, like certain types of talk therapy or breathing exercises, may also be able to improve some of the physical problems caused by anger.

Other doctors recommend anger-management strategies. Hypnosis, meditation and mindfulness can help, says the Cleveland Clinic’s Lupe. So too can changing the way you respond to anger.

Slow down your reactions. Try to notice how you feel and slow down your response, and then learn to express it. You also want to make sure you’re not suppressing the feeling, as that can backfire and exacerbate the emotion.

Instead of yelling at a family member when you’re angry or slamming something down, say, “I am angry because X, Y and Z, and therefore I don’t feel like eating with you or I need a hug or support,” suggests Lupe.

“Slow the process down,” he says.


This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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