Basements, Books, and Beloved Spaces

“May I a small house and a large garden have;

And a few friends, and many books, both true.”

 –Abraham Cowley

Here at September Farm, (drum roll, please!) we have finally finished our basement!  It is impossible to overstate the complete elation that we feel over this; it seems we have been confined to working on it for months on end, mostly because we have.  Did you hear the crickets chirping when you came to this blog?  Blame it on renovation!  Upon our initial evaluation of it, we had concluded that this basement was too leaky, dark, and smelly to use as living space.  The reality of having a large family set in, however.  We would harvest that space out of necessity and make it as cheery, safe, and cozy as possible.  Even though we will be empty nesters at some point in the future, we liked the idea of providing a separate living space should any of our children (and their children) need to return to the nest.  So began the basement overhaul.

A seemingly endless list of things had to be accomplished before we could even begin to use the basement space.  We had to move a wall, construct a utility room for the new furnace, install doors and doorways, seal the basement against leakage, do some grading outside, remove wood and sheet rock damaged by water, add ventilation and outlets, replace sheet rock and ceilings, build a closet, install a bigger window, make a safety door between the bedrooms, texture walls, remove stair carpet and pad, and replace some stairs.  Paint was needed desperately on every surface, of course.  For the sake of expediency I skipped painting the concrete floor and opted to live with the current acid staining.  Except for the HVAC installation and ductwork, we did all of this ourselves.  Looking back, it’s hard to believe how far we’ve come in transforming the afterthought of a basement!  The space now exudes humble comfort and coziness in every nook.  We took great care to tuck a happy memory into each room by re-using materials from the past.

Today’s post focuses on the area that we call the commons room.  It sits at the bottom of the basement stairs as a sort of tiny family room/guest room.  This is what it looked like before:

IMG_0366   photo (15)   photo (17)

The first picture above is the commons room before the wall was moved.  To say it was small is kind.  We moved the wall about 6 feet to the left, enclosed the sump pump as a utility room for the furnace, and ended up with this space:

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The photo on the left is the built-in bunk bed.  The one on the right is the now enclosed utility closet/sump pump room.

Many happy little projects have filled our days in the completion of the commons room.  Priority number one:  walls and ceilings.  What materials would we use to finish these?  We had done our share of dry wall installation, mudding, and messy sanding.  We wanted to avoid it again at all costs.  I’m pretty terrible at that whole process.  David and I pored over pictures on Pinterest and Houzz (my new addiction) for ideas.  Paneling was more expensive than we liked, considering the amount of space we needed to cover.  We decided to use sheet rock with furring strips at the seams (both on ceiling and wall), tying everything together with crisp white paint.  The result was a paneled wall look with a decidedly cottage feel reminiscent of David’s grandmother’s lake cottage, which is what we had hoped for.  Caulk covered a multitude of design sins and pulled everything together!

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Another project that we completed was making useful space out of the basement ledge.  We recycled some unused kitchen cabinets (above, left), turned them sideways, and installed them on the ledge.  We didn’t have quite enough cabinets to fit the whole ledge, so we bought a few $2 cabinet doors from the Habitat Restore to cover the remaining open space.  I painted everything white to unify the mismatched elements.  I also decoupaged the insets of the cabinet doors with pages from beloved books.  It was a sentimental journey for me as I chose meaningful pages from our favorite books:  Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis, When We Were Very Young by A.A. Milne, a book of poetry by Robert Frost, and my husband’s old pals Emerson and Thoreau, among others.  I had to buy the books at the thrift store to avoid cutting up my own copies, which are like loyal friends to me.  (Even so, some of my bibliophile daughters gasped in horror when they saw that I had dismembered a book!)  I got a lump in my throat as I re-read some of these passages and remembered peaceful hours piled on a twin bed surrounded by enraptured, attentive children begging for me to read just one more chapter to them.  The kids helped me pick out knobs to top off the cabinet doors, all different but especially meaningful to our family. This storage houses extra blankets and pillows.  And no, your eyes do not deceive you:  there is writing on the walls below the cabinets.  The main reason is that we are awesome parents/grandparents who used white board on that wall and continuing up the stairs for maximum kid enjoyment.  (On a side note:  thank you, Hobby Lobby, for offering such a cool and varied selection of cabinet knobs that I spend waaaaaaay too much time perusing.) Here’s a close-up of the cabinet doors:

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On to the next project:  the day bed/bunk bed/sofa.  My talented hubby designed the whole space around the dimensions for this bed, even placing the utility room walls in just the right formation to accommodate the built-ins.   We were able to use two springs from day beds given to us by my (Dawna’s) parents in Texas, who have both since passed away.  They had purchased these day beds for when their grand kids came for visits, so it’s a nice remembrance of them to have these built in to our home.  Nestled underneath the bunks is a trundle, providing sleeping accommodations for a total of three in this small area.  I sewed new pillow covers for 9 pillows we already had in storage.  One can never have too many pillows, right?  I fell in love with the world map fabric I found at and knew I must incorporate it into this space.  The other fabric was purchased at Hobby Lobby.  A repurposed dust ruffle and vintage bedspreads we had on hand tied everything together for a great lounging area.  I even tried my hand at applique on one of the pillows and was pleased with the result:

photo (60)    photo (67)

I love a good bargain, so finding these great lockers on Craigslist for $25 was an absolute thrill for me!  They added more storage to our small commons area without taking up too much floor space.  A little elbow grease and paint go a long way!

IMG_0448    photo (65)

I needed a small side table for the beds, so I pulled this one out of the barn.  It was stained and begging for a makeover; I used the photo printer that hubby got me for my birthday to print some old family pictures.  I decoupaged these onto the table for a quick transformation:

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Finally, we get to the basement stairs.  When we bought the house, they were covered in carpet that had seen better days.  Son Shaun and I removed the carpet, pad, and innumerable staples that held everything in place.  Next, handy hubby replaced some of the treads and risers that didn’t go all the way to the side walls.  Finally, I gave the imperfect wood a few coats of black paint and dressed the risers up with stencils.  I chose the numbers as another learning opportunity for the grand kiddos.  Once a homeschooler, always a homeschooler.

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Thus are the chronicles of our basement labors since mid-October.  It’s been an enlightening, confusing, frustrating, and inspiring journey wrought with obstacles, mistakes, and surprising discoveries.  In the end, we have a space that perfectly reflects our love of family, learning, books, old things with new uses, and cooperative projects.  We are now looking ahead to climbing those numbered stairs to the main floor and continuing to make this place our haven.


2 thoughts on “Basements, Books, and Beloved Spaces

  1. Wow! What an absolute labour of love! All your hard work has paid off – it looks fab and is a space that is uniquely yours. Wishing you many happy years of life in it. June.

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