De-Compartmentalized

From the early 1990s until 2006, the average size of newly constructed, single-family, detached homes in the United States only went one direction — up. Those golden years of the housing boom gave rise to the construction of many thousands of homes well in excess of 4,500 sq. ft. as more Americans sought and purchased the homes of their dreams.

One such family with a newly constructed home approached Gardner/Fox Associates, Inc. with the uncommon request to de-compartmentalize their walk-out basement. With ample living space on the home’s first and second floors, the family of three challenged architect Damian Kelly with the task of actually removing a guest bedroom and bathroom to create one large living space for sitting, playing billiards and general relaxation. The upshot: Many thousands of such dream homes remain in need of remodeling based on changing individual lifestyles.

As constructed, the home’s basement level was fitted with a small family room, a billiards room, a bar and an unfinished theater-style media room. Guests had access to a bathroom adjacent to the family room. Meanwhile, almost half of the basement’s finished space was devoted to an exercise room, a bedroom and a second bathroom, which were not needed. The existing basement floor plan looked and felt like a rabbit warren with rooms leading to more rooms.

By removing the center bathroom as well as an exercise room and bedroom, a larger, more open, light-filled room became possible, but de-compartmentalization was only part of the objective. The owners also sought to create a rich, club-like room for enjoying cigars and wine, rooms that were to be distinct from, yet visually joined with the enlarged basement living space. In addition, says architect Kelly, there was an overriding goal from the owners to make the lower level live and feel like the rest of the richly appointed home.

“They wanted the space to feel like another level of the home, not just a basement,” says Kelly.

To that end Kelly created a cigar and wine room area with arched brick entryways, custom-made cabinets and a beautifully executed coffered ceiling. The adjoining wine room was made to feel like an old vintner’s wine case. This was quite a challenge in a new home, but the authentic feeling was accomplished via a combination of masonry and masonry veneer finishes. Two courses of masonry brick veneer in antique red accent the arched opening to the wine cellar, creating a distinct, semi-private gathering area for adults. The interior of the wine vault was covered with caramel-colored country ledgestone and Brandywine-dressed field stone. Barrel-vaulted and covered with brick, the ceiling of the wine room mimics a true rathskellar, like a European bar below street-level.

It would have been quite contrary to the “de-compartmentalization” goal of the project to put wood doors on the cigar room and wine cellar. Instead, the team chose glass-front, arched French doors at the entrance of the cigar room and repeated them at the entrance to the wine cellar.

Out in the main living space, a large sitting space is bookended by a billiards area toward the cigar/wine spaces and a newly created bar area on the opposite end adjacent to the new powder room, which was originally the bath for the bedroom. Most of the bar and cabinetry were simply moved from their previous location now occupied by the wine room.

The last leg of the $319,000 project was to finish the media room/home theater. Much of the room, including the chases for wiring, etc., were in place, but lighting and much of the detail work required for a home theater remained to be added.

“In the end, I think we accomplished everything we set out to do,” explains Kelly. “In particular, this lower level feels like the rest of the home and is anything but an ordinary basement.”

Specified Products

Bath Cabinets: Vanity Flair
Flooring Tile/Stone: Devon Tile (Barbari field stone, Vanessa marble, Beaumanere limestone)
Kitchen Cabinets: Custom, Stimmel Design Group
Bar Top: Adesso marble, Verde butterfly polished granite
Wall covering: Walker Zanger, Latour border tile
Cellar floor: Devon blend tile pattern, Medieval castle stone
Wine cellar ceiling: Owens Corning brick veneer, antique red

Fast Facts about This Project

  • Location: Villanova, Pa.
  • Remodeling firm: Gardner/Fox Associates, Inc.
  • Square footage remodeled: 1,824
  • Project scope: De-compartmentalize and unify living space; finish media room; create cigar room and wine cellar; and keep essential elements, family room, wet bar, billiard room and powder room.
  • Total project cost: $319,000

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