Basements often are just leftover space. Builders don’t usually think about the most efficient way to use that space, putting the HVAC, plumbing and electrical components wherever it happens to be expedient. As a result, when it comes to repurposing basement space, one of the toughest jobs is sorting out the infrastructure, says Mark Lawrence, AIA, of E/L Studio, Cheverly, Md.
A 1911 home in Washington, D.C., for which Lawrence and his partner Elizabeth Emerson designed a multi-functional family activities area, was no exception.
“One of the nice things about the basement was that it had a lot of windows,” Emerson says. “But in front of one of the windows they had put a water heater and air handler. Prime real estate was taken up by things that you want tucked away. We wound up moving them into a smaller mechanical room.”
The client’s desire for a family center where the children could do homework and play and where the family could gather to watch movies was the impetus behind the renovation. Their extensive wish list also included laundry space, room for a home-office “command center,” space to work on crafts, lots of storage and a full bath.
Getting the mechanical equipment out of the way was just a start. Ceiling height was an issue because one member of the family is 6-feet, 5-inches tall. Initially, plans were to compact the mechanical equipment and ductwork into zones and uplight the ceiling to give the appearance of more height. When the final budget came in, however, funds were found to lower the floor, as well, which was an idea that had been debated during planning.
There was a dampness issue at one end of the basement. The stone foundation was re-pointed, and bead-board lining conceals a perimeter drain. A sump pump keeps water from accumulating.
"When it comes to repurposing basement space, one of the toughest jobs is sorting out the infrastructure."
Mark Lawrence, AIA, E/L Studio
With these details settled, a completely open space was left, something Lawrence and Emerson wanted to maintain as much as possible while satisfying the clients’ wish list. Instead of partitions to delineate different functions and activity areas, a box-like structure—likened to a Swiss army knife because it can be opened and closed and has multiple functions—was constructed in the center of the space, and custom built-in cabinetry houses and defines special areas within it.