More House Like: Bomb Shelter

So, we made an offer on another fixer-upper this week, which we withdrew because the sellers weren’t comfortable with our contingency (long Ponzi-esque story). Doesn’t mean we can’t resubmit our offer later, and I’m hoping we can. For one thing, this little place doesn’t have a basement.

Why, you may ask, would I be happy about that? Well, first of all, no one can move into it indefinitely *cough*.

Secondly, it means no basement water issues, ever. Been there, so not doing it again.

Thirdly, not having a basement to fall into is probably the reason this dumpy little house is astonishingly level. I am probably the only potential buyer who walked through that place and sighed over it’s plumb-ness. But, after fixing up a house with no right angles whatsoever this was actually one of the first items on my checklist. Doors that open and close smoothly, no big cracks to spackle, the potential for trouble-free installation of cabinets, built-in shelves, tile bathrooms and backsplashes…well, if you’ve ever worked on an old house, you’ll get it. Level is very, very good.

And fourthly, I’m just not that into underground living. For some bizarre reason I like windows and sunlight. Go figure. The husband is having trouble letting go of his dream of a man-cave, complete with knotty-pine paneling, gi-normous TV, and minibar. But he’ll get over it.

Now, in my current house, we have some serious basement. (In fact, we have a bomb/tornado shelter, ever since those guys pumped 5 tons of concrete around the foundation). I have never been crazy about spending a lot of time down there. But, we really made the most of it. Here’s what it was like when we bought it:

Family room before.

The family room part wasn’t so bad, it just needed some class. There was an awful, non-functional wood stove that we paid to have hauled away and replaced with a gas fireplace. There was no overhead lighting, so we had one put in. We painted the flesh-colored ceiling white, and the flesh-colored walls a light taupe. And we replaced the cheap-builder-grade carpet with cork tile. (Which is an awesome flooring material, by the way.)

Family room after.

Most of the basement was an unfinished area that ran along the entire back of the house, which is 40 feet long, then curved around the side of a basement bedroom. So, a fair amount of space. Here’s the before shots:

Basement full of junk.
Kinda yucky laundry room.

The first thing we did was pay a contractor to finish out a small guest room at one end of it. This involved knocking through a door to the family room, expanding the former basement window to a real window, and framing in a wall and closet to separate the room from the unfinished space. See how nice it turned out? It’s been so great to have for visiting family members. Totally worth it.

Grandma’s room.

Next, we moved on to that depressing laundry area. We put in a door between the laundry area and the workshop. That really helped keep the laundry area warmer in winter.

Then, I cleaned and painted over all the concrete walls.  That was pretty easy–I used two coats of exterior latex and big furry roller.

Then I covered over all the roughed-in walls with exterior-grade beadboard paneling.  This involved a lot of cutting and nailing, and a little framing around items like heating ducts. While I was at it, I ran a few more outlets along the wall. I had never done this before–I just followed the directions in the Home Depot 123 book. But all my wiring passed the home inspection with the exception of on GFCI outlet that I wired wrong. I was darn proud of that (and relieved, though I was pretty sure I’d done a good job.)


Then I enlisted some child labor to help me prime and paint all that beadboard.

My son doing his Oliver Twist impression.

At the other end, there was an unfinished space left between the laundry room and the guest bedroom. I had beadboard and lumber left over, so I made some “barn doors” to close it off and ran a wire for a light and outlet back there.

Now you see our junk.
Now you don’t.

I laid down a commercial tile floor. I am very happy with the floor, but that project really sucked. I had to peel up the old tiles with a heat gun first, then fool with sticky tile cement that the stupid cat would inevitably walk across and spread throughout the house. Floors are definitely on my list of Things We Now Pay Other People To Do.

I was so excited about my wall outlet wiring, that I decided to try wiring in tray lights as well, and suspending a ceiling. The wiring was kind of fun–it turns out I was a wiring geek and just didn’t know it yet. And it is so satisfying to bring light to a dark, gloomy room! Putting in the suspended ceiling was tedious as heck, but not inherently difficult. I wouldn’t do it again, but anyone could, really.

Suspended ceiling in progress.

I finished up with a project that I am really proud of. My daughter is very “crafty” and her room was a constant disaster as a result. I wanted to make a space where the kids could be creative. So, I got some old kitchen cabinets and formica countertop on Freecycle. And put together a craft center.

Craft center in progress.
The finished product.

Is that not the coolest thing? Doesn’t it just make you want to CREATE something? I am darn proud of it. It got a lot of mileage too. Many, many, happy, messy hours of craftiness.

As for the little area at the end of the unfinished basement, that remained pretty much unchanged until a few months ago, when I decided to improve on it a bit for resale.  I put pegboard paneling up, painted the concrete walls with some leftover paint I had lying around, and built a workbench (which will NOT convey with the house.)

Tidy workshop.

And that is how we finished off our unfinished basement. I’m proud of my work, but is it any wonder I would just as soon my next house didn’t have a basement?  I think not…


  1. I’m thoroughly enjoying your before and after shots and admiring your creativity! I have much respect for DIY renovations and hope that I have the energy and skill you seem to have in spades when I reach the point of having a place to fix up. For now, I am finding creative ways to work around the perils of my housing. Mustard yellow curtains to match your mustard yellow drexel chairs – of course! And I have the classic avocado bathroom as well.


  2. So much fun! What a wonderful job with your basement. I regard basements as alien landscape too. Basements in my native Florida just don’t work out well. Of course, whoever designed the basement in our last place in the US needed to have their head examined too.. open stairwell to the outside, no roof, tiny drain :p


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.