And Now For Something Completely Different: What Happens When Heidi Remodels a Basement
I know. The Internet was full of nonsense again, but I’m not going to comment on it. I’d love to, but it’s a morass and mostly it’s Mercury in Retrograde, and there’s nowhere safe to stand because the Internet isn’t discourse, it’s an outrage machine. Instead, I’m going to show what I did the past few weeks to my basement.
Backstory: our house is huge. Not in a McMansion kind of way, but in a hobbit house/rabbit warren kind of way. Once upon a time in the 1930s, it was a cute little bungalow, but then in the 1970s someone doubled the size of the house with an addition, including a fully finished basement. I bet even through the mid-eighties it was something to see. You can tell in the way they did the original building and in a few remodels that the place was smoking. I know former owners had many, many children, and I bet some great teenage times were had in our lowest story. But over time this space has lost its luster, and other homeowners declined to update the space and a few unfortunate water events wrecked carpet. Our contribution came from a cat who was sick and pissed and decided to use the basement bedroom for a litterbox, and in the way only cats can, the others decided to join him. The paneling in the hallway was dark and awful. The space was depressing, and while we managed to use the space initially, eventually became where we put stuff we didn’t know what to do with.
Those playing along at home: that was a large den, a hallway with small annex, a bedroom, and two and a half rooms in the traditional concrete block basement, all full of stuff we didn’t even want, just hadn’t bothered to shove out the door. That’s a lot of stuff.
For years I’ve said, “We should refurnish the basement.” I hated the wasted space. It’s large enough for an incredible one-bedroom apartment, with its own private entrance, and I have, often, told total strangers they should come live in my basement mostly because it made me nuts to have a small house full of junk instead of life. (Total strangers are smarter and saner than me, because nobody ever took me up on it, and anyway, Dan would have said hell no.) I always knew exactly what it needed: a coat of primer-sealer, paint, new carpet, new floor in the bathroom. Oh, a new sink/toilet would be great, the sauna gone and a mini kitchen put in its place would be brilliant, but that was icing on the cake. $1500 would give the space an entirely new life.
$1500 and a WHOLE lot of work. Even when we had the $1500, there was no way I was doing that much painting with my body. I did Anna’s room a few years ago and it was The Little Mermaid Paints a Bedroom: every step was a knife, every swath of a brush sent rivers of pain down my arm. I did it anyway, but that was one room, one week. This was two LARGE rooms, a LONG hallway, a bathroom, a stairwell. This was moving all the junk out first. This was figuring out several interlaced color schemes. This was lots and lots and lots of fussy detail work. This was the sort of thing I would have done in a breeze ten years ago, the kind of challenge I would have eaten for breakfast, but my body has been through the wringer since then.
Except…for the past two months, I’ve been on the magic, wonderful drug that is Lupron. And the bitch…she is back.
Dan said, “I know you’re better because Friday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend we were talking about maybe doing a remodel, and by Sunday night we had all the rooms clear and a coat of primer on the bedroom walls.” This was true, and ten days from that Sunday, the whole thing was done.
There was a beautiful Zen quality to reclaiming that basement. On the one hand, it does something serious to the psyche to transform a space from garbage site to guest bedroom and family bonding area, but for me there were the additional layers of simply being able to work like this again and remembering I used to be able to approach life with the same kind of crazed, focused zeal I can wreak on a manuscript. In fact, at this particular second I’m having so much fun being able to use my body, I have to make myself sit down at a computer and dive into my head. I cannot express to you how radical this is for me.
It was nothing short of magic to take a dark, stinky, depressing space and make it shine. It was cool to see the transformation, but it was a head rush and a half to be the ones doing the work. To know that brilliantly painted wall is there because we did it. That the subtle details of the lightswitch and the knobs of the reclaimed dresser are because you chose them. This was a space we all avoided. No one wanted to go down to the basement for so much as a screwdriver. It was a walk through the broken, discarded bits of our past, an albatross of should that wore at the soul.
Two specific things prompted this renovation. One, we were wanting a better area to watch TV and movies together in, since this is a big bonding time for us. Two, we wanted a better space for company who stayed overnight, and we had my sister coming mid-June, maybe people during my surgery recovery. It’s hard on Dan to have the spare bed be in his office, which due to space in our bedroom closet is also where his clothes are. Plus he always misses his office, his private retreat.
So we made a guest suite and a movie room. We did it together. I did a lot of it, waking early in the morning with a sore arm, but since I was up I might as well go get more painting done. We shopped carpet and sectionals and bedspreads. We sorted through old things and made runs to Goodwill and made a pile for Craigslist. We had help form Dan’s incredible parents, who came multiple times to help haul, move, lay parts of the carpet, take off doors, build new light fixture bases. We problem solved issues. We made plans for fine tuning.
And now it’s done. My sister has come and gone, and they loved their guest space. They and their two kids had space and privacy and comfort, and Nathan got to watch a ridiculously huge TV while his kids settled down for bed.
I loved doing this work. I loved doing it with my family, for my family. I can’t wait to have another houseguest. I want to have all my loved ones over for a movie marathon. I want to keep adding decorative touches and details. More than anything I can’t stop hanging out in the basement now, and I invent excuses to go down.
Throughout this post I’ve shown before and during pictures. The following are the finished products.
Bedroom (as modeled by Walter):
The above were taken before we finished the shelf. Lighting not as pretty here, but the shelf is done. Also you get a great shot of the LED light.
Hallway and bathroom (I don’t have a picture of the old way, but every light surface was dark brown.):
And last but very not least, the movie room. I don’t have any of the stairs, but they’re not that exciting. Just soft. Sidney is the model here, lost in the blankets, feeling yucky because of a bladder infection.
In that cabinet under the TV is an electric fireplace, which is very fortuitous as that room will get chilly in the winter. Cool part is we can have a “fire” anytime we want, without heat. I thought it would be cheesy, but actually it’s pretty cool.
We Cullinans do good work.