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WELL BOY OH BOY, it’s been a busy month of work on the Bluestone Cottage basement renovation, and now I have stuff to show you! The very first finished space in this house! Which may have been the most challenging one, although I may eat those words later, and certainly the most grim “before” I’ve ever encountered. If you haven’t checked out the earlier posts about resurfacing the concrete floor and adding insulation and finishes, go read those! We’ve got a lot of ground to get through in this one!
SHALL WE?! Let’s go.
Even though this old basement access is now covered over in favor of new wooden steps stacked under the main staircase, let’s just think wayyyyyyy back for a moment to when I first walked through this house and located the basement access. I walked down with just my iPhone flashlight, and then NOPE’D my butt right out of there. It was dark, dank, smelly, cramped, and littered with trash. And carpeting!! The kind of space where you might come upon a corpse and kinda feel like you asked for it.
Later on, once I got some lights set up down there, I took a total of two photos. They are above. I do this to myself sometimes: if I don’t really foresee something undergoing a big transformation, I neglect to take nearly enough “before” pictures and then I’m grumpy about it later. But anyway: can’t you just see a washer and dryer tucked into that little nook? No?
How about now?
NOT TOO SHABBY, AM I RIGHT?! I kind of surprised myself in here: I started work on this a month ago without any real design plan, and then inspiration struck hard in the form of Port Lockroy, a 1940s British research station on Antarctica. I tried to really let that space guide me with more than just a color scheme—the modesty, the simplicity and handmade quality of it were just as informative! I tend to overcomplicate things for myself sometimes, so I found myself mulling a lot over how to deal with certain things efficiently and frugally and without a lot of fuss. Some of those solutions ended up being my favorite things in the room!
This is shortly after I started work about a month ago, after I spent a few days cleaning up! Edwin and I had previously framed the walls, and electric and plumbing rough-ins had to be completed before any of this finish work could take place. The propane tank, by the way, is connected to this Craftsman portable propane heater—I have no idea how I lived for so long without one of these for winter projects.
S’cute right? I really wanted the space to feel super casual and practical because it’s a basement! In an old house! Practical is its entire job! So it’s not precious—throw up a hook wherever you need it, add a shelf, staple a cable, cut a hole and patch it with something else, provided you paint it—it’s all good.
Bear in mind that almost every single thing in this space is brand new and from Lowe’s!, but I still wanted it to feel like a vintage space. Finishing it like the rest of the house would have felt too formal and unnatural, though, so I tried to do things throughout to get that nice fresh WWII vibe all the kids are talking about (if I say it, does that make it true?). I basically asked myself “what would grandpa do?” a lot. Not either of my actual grandpas—to be honest, I have no idea how they would have finished a basement in 1945—more like some generic old guy in my brain who putters around. He’s always been old and he doesn’t have time for your shenanigans. Grandpa paints right over the outlets and switches and utilities, so I DID TOO. Grandpa ain’t about that painter’s tape life either. It felt so naughty and liberating. But like, I think it works.
Behind that door is the old basement access. Aside from the floor, I haven’t really dealt with that space yet, but it’ll house the boiler and some additional storage. I love that there’s a separate space for that! Because the ceiling height is so low (about 6-6’4″ depending on where you’re standing), it’s also really nice to have all the plumbing tucked into the ceiling so it could be finished without exposed Pex. Copper pipe can look great but Pex isn’t as nice to look at.
Putting all the hooks and hangers and tools on the pegboard was so much funnnnnn. I’ve never actually had a pegboard, and now I want one for myself! I kind of want this whole room for myself, but that’s a different story.
OK, now that we’ve kind of given it the once-over, let’s break it down!
Last time, we discussed the Azek composite baseboards, Dow Froth-Pak spray foam insulation, and 1/4″ thick beadboard plywood that I used for the walls. As a precaution, I painted the backside of the plywood with Rust-Oleum’s Mold Killing Primer. I attached the panels to the studs with 1 1/4″ exterior screws, and strips of scrap wood cover all the seams! The intention here is that should parts of a wall/ceiling ever need to be removed for any reason (like to access a pipe or a cable or something), one could do so fairly easily by just prying off the seam trim and locating the screw heads, and everything could likely be reused for the repair.
Since I ripped the panel widths down for the walls, I had some large off-cuts to use on the ceiling! The joists are all over the place and the thin plywood is definitely wavy as a result, but it’s ok! It looked so bad before I put up the seams to cover the strips and painted it, but now it’s great. The strips on the seams, by the way, are just the same plywood ripped to 2″ and flipped over to the smooth side. The “chair rail” piece is scraps of that same Azek composite board I used for the baseboard, ripped down to 2″ and only 1/2″ thick. I made a LOT of sawdust during this project, but didn’t buy any lumber (composite or real!) aside from 15 sheets of the plywood.
Itty bitty window! I’m pretty sure it had only been painted when it was new and had never been reglazed—which left it in probably the most restorable condition of any window in the house!
The old hardware didn’t work anymore with the new framing/trim, so I had to improvise a little but it works!
I couldn’t dress up this room without a few little nods to my Antarctic inspiration. That little print is by Charley Harper—I’ve been carrying around a stack of prints like this that I ripped out of a day planner like a decade ago.
This vintage print is one of the only things left in my own house from a previous owner, and I thought it’d be cute just hanging there tacked to the wall all casual. I used my super special supply of vintage carpet tacks for the occasion.
The door to the boiler room actually came out of my own house, too! It was a 1930s closet addition and the style isn’t appropriate for my house, but it’s perfect for this space! And it was already so small that I only had to cut about an inch off the bottom to make it work. Like it was meant to be!
So the grandpa part of me wanted to paint the door hardware right along with the door, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Ha! So I restored it instead. The backplate was original to this door, but the knob itself came from this house (the original knob is glass—I may use it upstairs?). I like when I can use excess from my house in other projects—it makes them all feel linked in a weird way.
Can we just take a hard right for a second and talk about HOW GLORIOUS IS THIS PAINT?! Now, you guys know me by now, right? I tend to be a black-white-neutral kinda guy when it comes to paint. I’m not typically using two really strong greens in combination, plus a color that resembles warm mayonnaise. BUT I LOVE IT. I love it so much that I wish we could all hang out down here in person, because the colors don’t translate precisely into photos shot in artificial light on an iPhone, but I did my best. It feels cheery and clean and vintage and modern and British and nautical and like a morgue all at the same time. The morgue part, especially, pleases me greatly.
Over time I’ve learned to appreciate sheens as much as colors—how glossy or matte a paint is can be a total game-changer! The Valspar High Gloss Enamel paint is fantastic to work with—thick, great coverage, and excellent self-leveling ability. The high gloss feels SO nice down here—it really gives off a vintage oil-based paint vibe, but with all the convenience and relative environmental friendliness and accelerated dry time of modern latex paint. Every surface feels scrubbable and smooth, and the sheen reflects a lot of light and makes the whole space just feel fresh. Love.
The actual painting was a bit labor-intensive, but totally worth it. I ended up finding that rolling with a regular nap 9″ roller and back-brushing everything with a 3″ angled brush was a good method for getting thorough coverage—all those grooves in the beaded ply suck up a lot of paint! You want to use kind of a heavy hand to get that thick oil-based paint look, you know? I did a minimum of two coats and three in some areas, and it would just look better and better with more coats. That plywood goes from looking a little hokey and cheap to downright luxurious with the right paint and caulk.
By the way, I’m a huge fan of these Whizz Microlon roller covers. They don’t shed like other roller covers do, and they wash really well—I threw some in my washing machine after giving them a good rinse, and they came out looking and feeling brand new! They’re awesome.
The upper walls and ceiling are Valspar’s “Ginger Sugar,” the minty color is called “Kelp,” and the dark green accent is “Palace Green.” For maybe the first time ever, I got three sample colors and ended up using exactly those three sample colors!
By the way—it took me a while to figure out how exactly to deal with these stairs. They were built speedily but not well, which ended up making a bunch of extra work for me later to reinforce all the treads and figure out how to finish them in a way that felt decent-looking and easy to clean. On the upside, I’m pretty sure I’ve figured it out. On the downside, I haven’t actually done it yet. But the stringer looks not bad for nailing some literal trash to it and painting it green! Let’s also not forget that I still have to renovate the entire house, so those basement stairs might take a beating before all is said and done—it might be better to just wait.
ANYWAY. Let’s discuss this region of the room. Pegboard? Love it. I just used a regular roller to paint it (be careful with brushing—paint can pool in the holes and drip out as it dries). It’s furred out 1″ from the studs behind, which creates the space for the pegs to be inserted into place. I started with this large assortment of pegboard accessories by Blue Hawkand then purchased a few extra bits like those little black mesh baskets and little yellow containers. I think organizing the pegboard is my new favorite game.
The big wooden trunk is an antique I picked up a while ago that I never especially had a space for in my house, but it adds a lot of charm here! It’s currently empty, but it could store a million different things. At my house it held a sewing machine and a bunch of fabric and associated supplies, but I decided those things would feel more at home spread across my dining room table because I needed to poach that trunk for my big boy art project.
The hanging clothes dryer is from one of my favorite stores in Brooklyn (now closed, like everything else I used to like in Brooklyn), and is no longer in production, so I cannot help you there. It hung in my first laundry room in my own house, and I would have reused it in my second one but there just wasn’t a good spot for it. I know this arrangement looks a little funny, but it’s hung far enough from the pegboard that I don’t think it’s an issue.
Speaking of drying! I’m not yet in a position to report back on the performance of the Bosch 500-series washer and matching electric ventless dryer I got for this space (read more about that decision-making here!) because they aren’t tottttalllllly hooked up yet, but I still feel good about them! You guys gave me a lot of good feedback on ventless dryers—which are definitely not all created equal—including how to optimize performance and what to reasonably expect. Some of you even have experience with these very models, which was encouraging! So anyway, I’m hoping that between the actual dryer, the hanging dryer, and the clothesline, there are enough ways to dry stuff down here.
OH YEAH GIRL, THERE’S A RETRACTABLE CLOTHESLINE. Did you think this was a JOKE? It stretches from one side of the room to the other and it took about 5 minutes to put up but somehow feels like huge fancy luxury and height of modern convenience.
My machine nook ended up being weirdly challenging! The hookups are way up by the ceiling (remember, really low ceilings), and I hate looking at that stuff but it needs to be easily accessible. I also wanted a big surface on top to fold or sort or put down a towel and iron or whatever, and a place to throw stuff away, while still leaving space around the machines (evidently crowding the dryer can really affect its performance), and then there’s that big 3″ waste line above and other plumbing just cutting across all ugly like that.
For the work surface, I mounted old 2×4 scraps as cleats to the side walls and back (I ended up cutting off the ends of that back piece later for the hoses and cords to fit up through), being sure to hit the studs. Then I used this Baltic Birch butcherblock counter, which was almost the perfect size! A few measurements and a pass with the circular saw later, I had a SUPER nice, solid worktop! To finish it, I used this Watco butcher block oil and finish, which is excellent stuff—it doesn’t need to be refreshed nearly as often as mineral oil does.
The overhead waste line situation was a little more iffy. I thought originally that I’d just build out a little soffit and box it in like a regular person, but after putting up a small section just to get a sense of how it would look and feel, I couldn’t! It looked AWFUL and it was a real head-banger—worse than the pipe alone since it protruded out further and lower. Just so awkward and terrible. I moved on to other stuff until I could think of a better solution. What would grandpa do?
Well, I’m not sure what grandpa would do but I know what I did which was so easy and I’m a little too smug about. I attached the framing lumber—one nailer up on the ceiling and one below on the wall. Obviously the framing is level and the pipe is pitched down, so I wanted to keep my “soffit” as high as possible while still maintaining a level line.
One occasionally advantageous quality of the Azek composite boards is that they’re SUPER bendy. After ripping 3/4″ thick boards down to 1/2″ thick for the chair rail, I had a lot of 1/8″ thick off-cuts that can bend almost in half before breaking. A-ha! I attached strips like this in several places along the length of the soffit to create a super-simple frame/shape.
Then, I attached 14″ flashing to the framing along the ceiling, and pulled it over my rounded composite board skeleton so it’d maintain a nice curve! I went into Lowe’s for aluminum flashing but opted for this vinyl flashing instead, since I thought it would be more forgiving as I inevitably bent and creased it by accident during install. This definitely would have been better as a two person job but I managed.
Anyway—a little caulk and paint and now it’s one of my favorite things in the room! It definitely looks like painted sheet metal, not vinyl flashing, and I feel like it’s one of those things your brain just kind of accepts as serving some function and moves on without thinking about more. I felt really crafty with that one, you guys.
For the whole hook-up situation, I tried not to overthink it (there were whole schemes with shelves and cabinets with false backs and other nonsense) and just made myself a little modesty skirt! And I really like it! I used a regular canvas drop cloth from Lowe’s, sewed a couple straight lines and boom, curtain! I hung it off of a metal clothing rod cut to size, which is easy to remove when the curtain needs to be washed. I like that there’s a lot of space to stash stuff behind it, too! There are a couple enamel trays back there to corral bottles of cleaners and stuff.
There’s about a foot and a half of dead space behind the machines, plus about 14″ to the side. I’m hoping that air circulation helps the dryer do its thing! I picked up this nice and affordable Style Selections trash can to sit in that space.
OK, should we talk about that huge work bench?! I love it and I’m jealous of it! It’s a full 8′ long by 2′ deep, which is such a wonderful and huge work surface to have anywhere in this little house! If I were doing this room for myself I’d probably want more of a proper tool bench with lots of drawers, but this feels more versatile if you just wanted it for general storage.
I started with a classic Edsal shelving unit, but modified it a little. I cut about 2″ off the vertical supports to lower the whole thing—especially with adding the butcherblock top, it was just too high for the space. Before assembly, I laid out all the pieces and coated them with this Krylon bonding primer spray paint, which dries quickly and leaves a nice matte finish to accept the topcoat!
Then I broke out my little Wagner spray gun (I love that thing for little projects like this!) and painted the parts to match the walls, of course!
I really like how it turned out! I’m sure the paint will chip here and there over time with use, but I feel like that’ll make it better in this case. I had to do a little…engineering to get the really nice baltic butcherblock top to work (not as easy as my plan of just plopping it on there), so there’s some added wood support at the ends to hold the top up and L-brackets to keep it in place. I also cut 1/2″ birch plywood for the shelves and layered it on top of the particleboard shelves that come with these units, which will hopefully keep the shelves from bowing and warping over time. I have these set up as shelving in my basement, and the particleboard is, unfortunately, a bendy mess after a few years.
By the way, I picked up an assortment of these Hefty storage containers to keep things more organized (the cottage has its own painting bin! how quaint!), and they’re great for this kind of thing! Most of the storage containers in my own basement are flimsy and tend to break a lot, but these seem really sturdy and up to the task of dealing with tools and heavy odd-shaped stuff. It’s nice to be able to just pull out a bin of everything you need (or at least everything you have, so you know what you need!) for a specific task.
Oh right—finally, the floor! It’s been a journey with this floor, which started with a cleaning marathon, followed by patching, priming, pouring Sakrete Self-Leveling Resurfacer, having to stop, priming again, and pouring more self-leveling resurfacer, tinted this time. Read that whole process here! I neither loved nor hated the final color of the concrete (I should have made myself some samples before mixing and pouring 700 pounds of concrete—my bad), but knew it would darken with a sealer and I wasn’t sure how it would play once the rest of the space was coming together.
Turns out—not into it! It wasn’t horrible but not really what I wanted. I spent about an hour sanding it with an orbital sander connected to my shopvac with 40 grit paper, which took off any paint drips, smoothed and buffed it out a little, and kind of softened the splatter-y stuff I did at the end of my concrete pour.
OK, so: people paint concrete. People stain concrete. People seal concrete. People epoxy concrete, and resurface concrete, and lay other flooring on top of concrete, and stencil it, and pour acid all over it. Within all of these categories of Things People Do to Concrete, we have subcategories. Finally we have products, and reviews for those products, and limitations of those products like the surface temperature and how long the concrete has cured, and these things are complicated by the fact that this has all been done in sub-optimal too-cold conditions in spite of my best efforts and I don’t know if any of it is a good idea. I tossed around my options for…weeks. My primary concern was that I’d do something that would wind up peeling, and then I’d hate myself forever? I’m not sure why this floor felt so high stakes.
While sanding the floor, I realized that my light, quick sanding wasn’t all that quick! The paint drips proved a lot harder to get out than I thought they’d be when I was cavalierly just painting without drop cloths, which I did because I knew I wanted to sand the floor down a little anyway, and I wanted to see the colors together.
Sometimes in situations like this, I’ll come up with a solution and somehow convince myself it’s the best one and I can’t really justify it later but it worked out so who cares? This is that. I bought a quart of dark brown latex paint. I thinned it to a ratio of about 4 parts water to 1 part paint. Then, because it was sitting there, I grabbed some of the powdered orange concrete tint and threw that in there too, because why not. Then I mixed it all up in a 5 gallon bucket.
I cut in around the room with a brush and then wiped up any excess, which was very little. That was the point! If it really soaks into the concrete instead of sitting on top of it…I mean, that’s logically what you want, right?
Anyway. I rolled out about 4’x4′ sections, and then buffed out the excess with a towel. I kept working that way across the floor, blending edges. What was kind of cool was that the powdered concrete tint didn’t really incorporate into the paint-water mix, so some spots got more pigment than others and I could blend those areas out to create some nice variation.
I don’t know, I’m into it.
The next day when the “stain” was totally dry, I added one coat of this Valspar Protective Sealer in the “wet look” (there’s also a “natural look,” which really is invisible when it’s dry). This deepens the color and dries with a glossy sheen—which I like in an instance like this, where it’s still a concrete floor but you want to be able to mop it, ya know? It soaks in really nicely—the reviews for this stuff are a mixed bag, but I’ve used it several times now for different things (brick, natural stone, now concrete) and it’s been great every time and very forgiving. Ideally I would have done at least one additional coat, but I was antsy to put this floor project to bed and it looked good with one, so I figured I could always add another later on down the line.
SO. ANYWAY. WHAT ELSE. I’ve reached a point where I think I have a mirror for any occasion? This one isn’t as old as I usually like ’em, but it’s so sweet for this house. Evidently I bought it at an auction, and since I don’t remember doing so, that means it was very very cheap. Unless I bought it at a yard sale from somebody who bought it at an auction and just left the lot sticker on. This is not important. I’m not worried about it, you’re worried about it!
That vintage ball lamp has been with me for years! I threw a bunch of these little brass Gatehouse coat hooks around the room, just because. Hooks are so handy. Never enough hooks. And I feel like these $3 basic hooks are perfect for this kind of space. I wish a little bit I’d hung them earlier so I could have painted over them—you know that’s what grandpa would have done!
That plaid throw laid SO VERY CASUALLY across the worktop is the official tartan of Antarctica, purchased at the continent’s only gift shop at Port Lockroy—the historic site that inspired this room for me. And I feel sort of stupid saying it, but creating this space felt on some level like being able to go back there, just a little bit. Or maybe access the feelings, somehow, of being there. Because “there” was a physical space, of course, but it was also a headspace that was more impactful than I think I realized at the time. It was a time of shifting perspective; of evaluating my life and thinking critically about such topics as priorities and goals and what are you doing?—a question often quickly followed by with that poor house down the street?
Welp. I did this with that poor house down the street. From the design to the sponsorship to the basement-ness of it, it’s all been outside of my comfort zone in a way that’s been challenging and stimulating and hard and highly productive. I’m not going to pretend every day down in that room was fun and exciting, but it also felt like exactly where I needed to be. Like I was keeping some important promises I’d made to myself down at the bottom of the globe. Following through. Getting it done. Doing the work. Sucking it up. Getting back on track—maybe not the same track, but a track. Tracks are nice.
So anyway. I love this room, and I love you guys for being on this weird funny ride with me—even when the waters get a little choppy. And a huge thank you to Lowe’s for allowing me to take this on! I know for certain that this room is vastly better for the opportunity to do this with them.
Tired but happy human, for scale.