The architects converted a rickety staircase into a handsome stairwell with built-in storage space.
When the doors are opened, the desk area reveals lighting and storage for office supplies.
The other side of the basement offers play space for the children, a flat-screen TV and a gas fireplace.
The laundry area boasts an expansive soapstone counter and in-wall cabinetry to  the left of the appliances.

Expert Advice- A Radical Transformation

A basement renovation offers surprising storage solutions within a sleek, stylish space


Ronald and Mary Slimp had basic goals when they decided to overhaul the basement of their 1915 home in Northwest DC: more storage, better organization and a space for the kids to hang out. As it turns out, their vision was  “a little pedestrian,” laughs Mary, standing in the radically transformed basement area. “I had no idea what we could do here.”

The couple tapped Cheverly, Maryland-based E/L Studio for the job, and principals Mark Lawrence and Elizabeth Emerson brought a lot more to the table than a basic basement design. In their hands, the basement area became streamlined and efficient, defined by innovative storage and design solutions within an envelope that both reflects the home’s traditional style and infuses it with contemporary flair.

Prior to the renovation, the space was chopped into a series of rooms, generally too small to be useful. In order to open it up, Lawrence and Emerson gutted it, then created what they term a “box” in the center of the basement into which they consolidated pipes, electrical wiring and other mechanical necessities. That central piece of construction divides the space into two parts: the kids’ play area, complete with TV, gas fireplace and room for books and toys; and the laundry room/home office.

The central box also houses a large amount of storage space. On the office side, it includes a built-in desk with cubbies and drawers and extensive closets for clothes. On the other side, an arts and crafts area with a pegboard, shelving and drawers shares space with a sink, mini-fridge and a glass-fronted unit that stores home entertainment equipment. A flat-screen TV hangs above the gas fireplace. 

“We tried to accomplish a sense of open, continuous space,” Emerson says. “But we also wanted to be able to close things off” to reduce clutter. The solution was a sliding door system with seven panels on the laundry room side and five facing the kids’ area. The door panels slide all the way over to one end of the box, where they can be stacked one in front of the other so that they virtually disappear. The doors can be locked in place to secure the desk area.

The designers’ plan ensures that the space can evolve over time. For example, the wall that is now geared towards children will later be converted into a wine rack and wet bar. 

Throughout the space, details provide extra functionality. The walls of the kids’ play area are lined with bead board banquettes and bookshelves for storage; these also insulate the foundation wall and conceal a liner that was necessary to protect the existing foundation. The original rickety basement stairway is now an open staircase that admits light from the back basement door; tucked beneath it, a wall of cubbies stores Mary Slimp’s party-planning supplies. 

The floors were lowered a foot to accommodate Ron Slimp’s six-and-a-half-foot height, and the ceiling boards were left bare instead of being covered in dry wall, to give the impression that the ceiling is higher than it is. While the stairway is oak—stained dark to connect with the floors in the rest of the house—the basement floor is cork, which imparts a contemporary feel to the space. In fact, the basement “mixes styles and eras,” says Emerson. “A copper-tile fireplace, soapstone countertops and salvaged hardware reflect the period of the house, but clean lines make it all feel modern.” 

Pepper Watkins is a Washington, DC-based photographer.


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