Livened up lower level

Airoom Companies transforms an unfinished Chicago basement from storage area to lively indoor entertainment space.

December 16, 2012
Underpinning the basement level allowed the room to gain space. The ceilings wer

Underpinning the basement level allowed the room to gain space. The ceilings were raised from 7 feet to 9 feet.

When the owners purchased their century-old Chicago two-story home seven years ago, they immediately began a series of remodeling projects starting from the top down.

After completing a number of remodeling projects throughout the home, the owners still were not satisfied with the amount of indoor entertainment space available.

Following up on a recommendation from a neighbor, the owners researched and eventually hired the Airoom Architects, Builders & Remodelers, a design-build firm based in Lincolnwood and Naperville, Ill., to dig out and remodel their unfinished, low-ceiling basement space.

By tapping into this habitable space, the owners would eventually realize the full potential of their basement space while also increasing the indoor entertainment space they desired. Following the initial meeting with Airoom in September 2009, the owners signed off on their plans soon after with demolition and construction set for May 2010.

Design connects levels

Once the initial contract was signed, Airoom embarked on a full basement remodel design that connected the lower level and the first floor to provide the additional recreation space required by the client. Airoom operated under the owners direction to create a “wow” response upon entering the remodeled basement, all the while keeping the contemporary style that was used in the rest of the home. It was a challenging job, primarily due to the age of the home. 

Company Snapshot

The Airoom Companies, LLC

Owner: Mike Klein

Location: Lincolnwood, Ill.

2011 sales volume: $23 million

Projected 2012 sales volume: $27 million


“The owners lived in this 100-year-old house for seven years,” says Gina Bon, interior designer for Airoom. “They had what we call in the industry a ‘true Chicago basement,’ which meant they had an unfinished space with a low, seven-foot ceiling filled with a highway of electrical wires and plumbing lines between the ceiling joists. The owners wanted to finish the basement by creating several more defined spaces for their two young daughters, as well as a ‘man space.’”

Bon suggested a contemporary lower level designed with an entertainment center, a workspace with a large desk, and an upscale, modern powder room.

An open floor plan was designed to pair the different textures and modern finishes that were to define each separate area of the basement.

Leading into the lower level, Bon’s design included an open-rail curved staircase that included a number of recessed niches for visual interest and to display artwork.

At the bottom of the staircase, a granite countertop was included in the design to serve as a workspace for the owners' two daughters. A flat-screen television was located adjacent to the workspace and placed in this space so that it could be seen from throughout the basement, including the pool table area. A full wet bar with undercounter refrigeration, a dishwasher, and wall cabinets located along a back wall were also incorporated in Bon’s design.

The other focal point of the design was the powder room, which was designed to include walls with laminated translucent screens to delineate the space and ensure light.

Bon was provided with detailed input for the basement design from the owners, which ultimately led to a finished project that incurred very few change orders.

“The clients were very particular with the design and they knew what they wanted in their basement space,” says Dan Carlman, project division manager for Airoom Architects, Builders and Remodelers.

Contract signed, challenges ensue

The owners initial budget for the project was $170,000. After the initial contract was signed several addendums to the job were added during construction, including a tankless water heater, a window seat on the staircase, granite flooring, heated floors, and the custom ceiling framing. This increased the final job cost to $202,000.

The Financials

According to Airoom CEO Mike Klein, the goal was to keep the estimate price as close as possible to the actual price of the project.

“The final price ended up being 15 percent more in the end,” says Klein.  However, the price increases occurred prior to the start of construction because of client requests.

“Most of the price increases were done in the development phase and not during construction,” says Klein. “The clients chose to add work and take away other items, which ultimately resulted in additional dollars for additional ideas and requests.”

Klein mentioned that Airoom runs a consistent margin on all of their projects; this project basement rehabilitation was no exception. “The margin was consistent with the original sale,” Klein says.

Regular meetings with the client took place before and after the contract was signed, in regard to the project budget. “We had about four plan reviews to make final selections after the contract was executed,” says Klein. “Prior to making the sale, we met with the client three times.”

Klein kept detailed notes of the change orders, which included new stair work, radiant heating in the floor, additional lower-level cabinetry, and low-voltage lighting.

“As requested by the owners after signing the construction contract, there was additional work needed for the new stairs including the curved landing and steps, and the creation of a larger ceiling opening above,” says Bon.

Bon also explained the challenges of the existing ceiling height to the owners, who agreed to have most of the basement underpinned. The time-consuming underpinning process included removing the existing concrete floor, excavation, pouring new concrete exterior walls under the existing walls, and finally pouring a new concrete floor.

“This allowed the room to gain a habitable and comfortable space with 9-foot ceilings,” says Bon.

Because of the underpinning, the owners were required to move out of the home during the time when the floor was being dropped because the underpinning rendered the mechanical and sanitary systems unusable.

Once the underpinning was complete, Airoom had to shore the center of the two-story home, remove an existing wood beam, and install a very large clean span beam from the front to the back of the home.

“The installation of the new beam was necessary in order to make the open floor plan possible,” says Carlman. “This process had to very well planned, and it took a great deal of time. It cannot be rushed.”

Budget History

Initial contract:             $175,000

Change orders:             $27,000

Final estimate:              $202,000

Gross profit:                 16 percent

Actual net profit:           8 percent

Once the challenge of underpinning the basement was met, Airoom then turned its attention to updating the design of the stairway.

“Redesigning the stairway to an open-rail system was the key in connecting the two levels,” says Bon.

The redesigned open-rail curved staircase was peppered with recessed niches to create a visual interest and to display unique sculptural pieces that can be viewed upon descent into the lower level. The landing space itself proved challenging from the design and installation perspective.

“Allocating the landing space to meet codes while still leaving as much open floor area in the actual basement proved to be difficult,” says Carlman.

According to Carlman, the difficulty in the space constraint was due to the underpinning process, which encroached nearly 4 inches in two directions.

After implementing the new staircase dimensions, the staircase template was created onsite and eventually fabricated at the stair company’s facility prior to installation. Despite the unexpected changes to the design, the installation went off without a hitch, according to Carlman.

Additional elements of remodel

When the stair installation was complete, Airoom was quickly able to begin the remaining elements of the basement redesign.

In keeping with the open concept, the powder room was tucked under the remodeled staircase. The powder room walls were constructed of wood-frame panels made of frosted Plexiglas inserts and were installed in place of drywall to provide additional light.

The powder room includes cobalt blue recycled glass tile behind a floating concrete sink. The sink, which also had a wall-mounted waterspout, included wall-mounted foot pedals for hot and cold water. Custom-made 9- by 19-inch stone tiles framed the wall behind the toilet, which had to be moved to a new location but was still close in proximity to the soil stack. 

A 5-inch wide trench was also carved into the stained concrete floor to include a pebble tile curb inlay.

At the base of the curved stairs was the workspace with an undulating granite countertop that was designed specifically for the Schwarz’s two daughters to do homework as well as arts and crafts.

Upon entering the room, the open floor plan keeps the lower level feeling spacious. The space begins its transition into the entertainment area with the inclusion of the wall-mounted flat-screen television and related seating area.

Adjacent to the television and seating area is the pool table area. A full wet bar with undercounter refrigeration, a dishwasher, and wall cabinets located along a nearby back wall were also incorporated in Bon’s design.

Client satisfied with final results

Prior to the construction, the basement was a dark, dingy, uninviting space that only served as storage for out-of-season items.

After the transformation, the lower level now ties in with the rest of the home’s modern style and provides additional space for entertainment.

Despite finishing the project slightly behind schedule, the owners were very happy with their remodeled basement. The client understood the project was being delayed because of the custom design and materials incorporated in the project.

“Slight delays were cased due to the difficulty in executing the unusual design with the custom building materials that could not be pre-ordered, including the staircase template,” says Carlman. “They were involved clients, and there were times where it was stressful for all involved, but we never sacrificed quality or cut corners to get the job back on time.” PR

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