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Spacious retreats
Don’t call them ‘rec rooms.’ these four spaces are so much more than that

Photos by Doug Edmunds

November 2012

The lower level of this Pewaukee home features multiple gathering spaces for entertaining, socializing and watching television.

Consider the lowly lower level. It can be the most difficult part of a house to decorate. It may be dark and sometimes damp — and it tends to become the dumping ground for old furniture and other items. But the right design can make these spaces as beautiful and important as any other spot in the home. Here are four stunning lower level redesigns that elevate the basement experience.

Natural Gathering Spot

Marlene Phelps had several ideas in mind for the redesign of her Pewaukee home’s lower level, embracing earthy colors, organic birch tree artwork and sleek contemporary furnishings. "I took those elements and gave them to Heather Scott (of Heather Scott Design Inc.). She drew up some specs and we began the redesign," Phelps says.

The result has a Northeastern coastal feeling. The colors are grays, cream, neutrals with dark cherry wood cabinetry and dark laminate floors. "It’s very clean but edgy. The trickiest part was the bar, which has backlit interchangeable front panels," Scott says.

White birch branches appear throughout the room in the form of a lighted sculpture and bathroom light fixtures. "The organic look of the birch trees is my favorite part. My husband’s favorite is the bar," Phelps says. The family can gather to play games or to entertain at the bar area with its twin televisions for sports viewing. There is also a workout area and entire wall of closets for storage.

"I love space planning and getting the design right, giving the client everything they want," Scott says.

A wall mural created from a photo of a Schlitz Palm Garden lends a vintage feel to the luxurious lower level lounge in the Wisconsin Breast Cancer Showhouse. The room was designed by Libby Castro of LP/w Design Studios and showcases the homeowner’s collection of Joseph Schlitz Brewing Co. memorabilia.

Showhouse Lounge

Memorabilia of the beer that made Milwaukee famous adorns the lower level lounge of the 2012 Wisconsin Breast Cancer Showhouse in Milwaukee. The space, which features a life-size photo of a Schlitz palm garden, takes one back to Milwaukee’s glory days as a brewing capital. Homeowner Andy Nunemaker has a wide array of items from the legendary brewery. "I started my collection when I was in college," he says. "The biggest piece I have is the original neon Schlitz sign from Summerfest."

Designer Libby Castro of LP/w Design Studios, Milwaukee, faced a challenge in taking on the 100-plus-year-old space. "The basement was pretty dilapidated, but it was fun doing things from the ground up. We used recycled vinyl tile made to look like leather on the floors. Leather-look material covers the ceilings as well," she explains. The contemporary furnishings are in stark contrast to the turn-of-the-century collector’s items. "We put in some contemporary Eames chairs in brown leather, along with some dark tables," she says.

"To highlight different pieces from the homeowner’s collection, we created some niche areas, and a vault to house some of the items. We tried to emphasize the Georgian architecture of the house by creating pilasters and other beautiful details," she says.

Rustic beams and a live-edge bar were created to replicate the feel of a Montana resort where the family stayed. The walls are decorated with favorite photos from family vacations.

Function Follows Family

The Happ family of Mequon loves the American West and wanted to use that influence to create a place with elements that the entire family could enjoy. "We love the idea of a Western farmhouse," Kathy Happ says. "We tried to use a mix of old and new materials, including the floor, which is reclaimed Kentucky horse fencing," she says.

Lakeside Development, Mequon, designed the space, taking down one wall and adding a game room with pingpong and pool tables for the Happs’ teenage son. Their two college-age daughters have an area for getting together with friends and watching movies when they are at home.

The adults weren’t left out of the equation. A kitchen/bar area features zinc countertops and a live-edge bar, very distinctive elements of the space. "We saw some things we really loved at a resort in Montana and we asked our builder to try to duplicate some of them. They did an excellent job with the bar, which is a big pine plank with a raw edge," Happ says. "We just love everything."

LED lighting in the bar top adds to the sophisticated feel of this Mequon home’s lower level.

A Tranquil Space

With a blended family that includes seven children, Bonnie Hammond and her husband, Kelsey Starks, wanted to make their Mequon home’s lower level into a gathering place. Highland Development, Mequon, worked with the homeowners to design a beach-themed space that imparts a restful and relaxing feel.

The waterside theme was carried out in a variety of ways. Large mirrors are framed in a shell motif, pendant lights look like sea urchins suspended from the ceiling, a large saltwater fish tank flanks a wall near the bar, and items that look like deep sea diving relics are found throughout. On the walls are murals of the New York City skyline and the Irish coast — another tribute to living near the water. "They are some of our favorite places," Hammond says.

A. Fillinger, Milwaukee, was called in to construct built-in cabinetry and shelves in the entertainment and bar area. "The bar top is designed with LED lighting underneath. Rope lighting can be changed if we want a different color," Hammond says. The redesign also includes a music studio for Starks, who is a producer, and a large closet. "We spend so much time downstairs now. They did a fantastic job," Hammond says.



This story ran in the November2012 issue of: