Home Theater and Gallery

Modern materials and an improved layout transforms the generic “finished” basement in this home in Potomac, Md., into a more exciting and efficiently-planned space that brings the homeowners recreational opportunities to a whole new level. Their new amenities include a home theater, a computer center and a climate-controlled wine cellar.

September 30, 2007
Basement Remodel
Products List
A Fresh Approach

Sleek maple cabinetry and concrete counters provide space for the art collection and lend a contemporary feel.  
After photos by Maxwell MacKenzie

Although their basement was bright and spacious, the owners of this contemporary colonial house in Potomac, Md., had grown weary of its generic appearance and poor layout. Instead, they wanted a more exciting and efficiently planned lower level that would boost the home's recreational opportunities for the entire family.

Jonas Carnemark, head of the Bethesda, Md.-based design/build firm Carnemark Systems & Design, was able to give his clients everything they were looking for and then some, transforming the 1,347-square-foot below-grade space from ordinary to extraordinary during the six-month project. In addition to the original guest room, full bath and game area, their new basement includes an exhibition vestibule designed to showcase the husband's treasured collection of Australian art, a family computer center, spectacular home theater and even a 1,500-bottle, climate-controlled wine cellar.

The use of upscale materials such as maple cabinetry, bamboo flooring and custom concrete countertops gives the lower level's former run-of-the-mill appearance a modern, Scandinavian-inspired style that the homeowners plan to gradually integrate into their main living areas upstairs as well.

"This project was all about re-addressing the configuration of space in the basement to improve the flow and make better use of what was already there," says Carnemark, who is both a certified remodeler and a certified kitchen designer.


For example, the unfinished and mechanical areas in the basement were redesigned to better accommodate the homeowners' storage requirements, which included everything from pet food to luggage and even several harps. The result: although storage space has been reduced by nearly half, the remainder actually functions much more efficiently for the family.

Carnemark says the most challenging element of this project was the improvement of the transition between levels. "It was very important to the homeowners that we create a more sensible flow from the upper floor to the lower one so that it felt like they were moving from one finished space to the next. We accomplished this by re-working the stairs to give the entry to the basement a more gracious feel."

The new staircase to the basement is wider and provides more headroom than its predecessor. Modern cable detailing accents the maple handrail. In the new computer center, Jonas Carnemark came up with a clever solution to concealing wall-mounted meters without restricting access to them: a moveable wall above the built-in desk.

The wood door at the top of the staircase that provides access to the basement was replaced with a French-door style, glass-panel one. "This allows natural light to permeate the lower level even when the door is closed to prevent noise transmission between the two floors," he says.

Another big change was the conversion of the basement's former play room into a sleek home theater with a full wall of cabinetry and display shelving that frames a niche for a 50-inch plasma television. Originally, a vertical support column bisected the opening between the game area and the future home theater. Carnemark removed the single, ill-positioned bearing point and replaced it with two columns that were then incorporated into new walls designed to define the transition between the rooms. "We used a temporary wall to provide structural support while we excavated and poured footings for the new posts," he says.

While it looks rounded, the cabinet wall in the new home theater is not. The perception of a radius wall is actually an optical illusion, the remodeler says. A curved plinth was constructed to serve as the base for the conventional square cabinet components that were stepped back along the perimeter of the elevated platform.

In addition to addressing flow of space, room function and storage requirements for this project, Carnemark says he kept in mind his client's strong desire to have a place to display artwork. The new lobby at the base of the staircase features built-in, library-style shelves with flat wall space above them. He also made sure the walls in other sections of the basement would accommodate oversized paintings, including a 12- by 7-foot piece that hangs in the home theater.

A custom-built pedestal in the new home theater gives the illustion that the media wall curves.

The remodeler gave the ceiling on this level a more pleasing aesthetic by reorganizing the ductwork and pipes so they could be embedded inside coffers. To hide the wall-mounted utility meters in the basement's new computer center, a movable false wall was installed above the built-in work center. Mounted on a specially-designed cleat system, the upper wall can be shifted out of the way so the meters can be accessed when necessary.

Says Carnemark: "Rationalizing the way these necessary elements come together ultimately gives the entire space a much better and more finished look."


Basement Remodel

REMODELER AND ARCHITECT: Carnemark Systems & Design, Bethesda, Md.
AGE OF HOME: Approximately 20 years old
SCOPE OF WORK: Create a new living area for work, play and storage as well as an extensive art and music collection

Products List

Cabinets: Beckerman HVAC: Lennox Countertops: custom concrete Flooring: bamboo

A Fresh Approach

To make the transition between the first floor and the basement more appealing, Carnemark Systems & Design stepped up the drama of the lower staircase by widening it and removing an upper bulkhead that restricted ceiling height. He also incorporated a mid-level "window" in the wall between the stairwell and the computer area that provides a view into that room from the top of the stairs.

Widening the lower section of staircase required care. The remodeler used a temporary wall to support the center-bearing sections of the house and removed the existing supporting tubular steel column in the stairwell. Next, an 18-inch section from the main bearing steel beam was cut using a torch. After digging and pouring a new footing, the team welded a new column in place under the end of the beam.

The ceiling height within the staircase was increased by cutting back the joists, which were perpendicular to the base of the stairs, and installing a second temporary wall, remodeler Jonas Carnemark says. Two microlam beams now run flush inside the ceiling to pick up the load of the shortened joists. One beam ran from a welded joist hanger on the steel beam to the opposite foundation wall. The cut joists were then joined to a second microlam that attached, mid-span, to the first and ran to a second new column and footing in the end of the stair wall partition.

"The end result," says Carnemark, "was a tall ceiling space all the way down the stairs that afforded good lines of sight and ample head room all the way past the last step.

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