Custom Closets + Organized Spaces: Case Study

Kid Central: A basement in disrepair becomes a colorful play space with storage options galore

A Cleveland Park couple with one child and a baby on the way hired Bruce Wentworth to turn their partially finished basement into a fun, vibrant playroom complete with a small bath and plenty of storage.

Before the project began, a disused oil tank had to be removed. This opened up the east-facing wall, which includes three windows—two of which are installed within a square bay. Sloppy, intrusive duct-work was rerouted and narrowed to maximize the height of the seven-foot ceiling. Now, a bulkhead in the center of the room accommodates a structural beam; it’s bordered by coves fitted with rope lighting.

“Wherever possible, the highest ceiling areas were maintained to create the illusion of a taller space,” Wentworth says.

A custom storage-and-bookcase unit was designed around the windows within the bay, creating an attractive focal point in the room. In order to accommodate the 1926 home’s problematic sloped basement floor, the built-in units have a recessed, four-inch-high toe kick that makes them look like they’re floating, thus concealing the irregular surface. The lower-level drawers store board games and toys while the upper ones hold books. A second built-in unit incorporates cozy seating in a niche under the stairwell.

Wentworth and his team worked with decorator Nicole Lanteri to select colors and furnishings. Since the couple likes a Mid-Century Modern look, Lanteri chose bright pops of color inspired by that era for paint, upholstery, and pillows. “Clients often find they want to be bolder with playrooms,” Wentworth observes. “They want a different look from the rest of the house. It can be a refreshing change.”

Renovation Architecture: Bruce Wentworth, Aia; Michael Merschat, Aia, Wentworth, Inc., Chevy Chase, Maryland. Color & Furniture Selection: Nicole Lanteri, Nicole Lanteri Design, Arlington, Virginia. Photography: Geoffrey Hodgdon.

Bruce Wentworth’s Trade Secrets:

  • When finishing a basement space, consider using porcelain tile on the floor if there are moisture issues.
  • Remember that you can move or change the dimension of ductwork if it’s in the way. In this case, Wentworth moved it away from the window wall to raise the ceiling height and bring in more light.
  • If the floor is very sloped, as in this house, a liquid leveler will even it. However, that is an expensive solution. In this home, built-ins were designed to look like they’re floating. This is a trick that hides irregularities.
  • Be sure the basement design utilizes all extra space for storage.
  • Have fun with a playroom space. Here, in addition to bright, playful colors, the design team implemented chalkboard and magnetic paint.