Entertaining Idea

When owners Rick Bartelt, CGR and Rick Filo of Bartelt Filo, Menomonee Falls, Wis., took on this 900 sq. ft. Milwaukee-area basement project the homeowner was looking for a way to transform her 1920s-era English Tudor home basement into an area she could use for entertaining. Not only would she need space for dining, but places for cooking and storage.

“We had done a couple of other smaller projects for the homeowner previously and was happy with the service,” says Filo. “When she started looking into us doing this project, she really liked the creativity of our staff and some of the design that was coming out of it so that’s kind of how it all evolved.”

To tie it all together, the homeowner wanted an “Old-World” feel with sophisticated, English-looking materials. She was going for a look that would showcase her collection of art and vintage advertisements and antiques.

“She wanted unique,” explains Filo. “She’s in the marketing industry and is quite creative herself in what she does for a living and so wanted a creative idea.”

Getting Started

The finished basement had its share of difficult moments. The space had about six ft. of headroom to begin with and in order to obtain any kind of style and pizzazz to the project, the Bartelt Filo crew had to dig down two ft. to create a usable space.

“We were concerned because of the nature of it,” says Filo. “Getting equipment down into the basement would be very risky because if you bumped anything like the support beams or the posts it would probably shake the house just enough that it would do significant damage throughout.”

So the decision was made to hand dig the basement down the two ft. required to make the room usable for entertaining. From there the dirt was hauled out by wheelbarrow thus controlling the three-week dig as much as possible. But that wouldn’t be the last problem concerning the dig.

“Right from the get go, she had water problems existing in the house,” adds Filo. “When we dug down we noticed there was some seepage that was coming in so we had to identify from where it was coming in and try to rectify that problem.”

Since some of the foundation had to remain while the other areas would be dug down, a challenge faced the team. How were they going to incorporate these two areas into the design so that it didn’t look like something was left there, or missed. Using the dug out area for entertaining and cooking, where most of the guest flow would be, allowed the raised area to act as more of a foyer entry point for the finished space.

The next challenge for Bartelt Filo would be the mechanicals installed. Getting all the necessary mechanicals in place for the heat and electrical systems, because there was a high amount of electrical lighting, and then how to cool everything down and get the right air flow going to cool that whole area down enough would have to be solved.

Some of the space for the electrical and HVAC was being created by some of the soffit work that took place within the ceiling. The team tried not to lower anything because there already was a battle getting the room down low enough to get the headroom needed. A lot of front end thought had to go into the real creative soffits that were installed where cabinetry was going to be placed. Where overhead HVAC and electrical just won’t work it was incorporated into the floors and then brought up to the sidewalls.

There was also the challenge of the brick ceiling in the kitchen area. Figuring out how the lighting was going to be placed and the structural concerns since the team would be adding all the brick to the ceiling became a concern. They had to fight the urge to put in headers because it would bring the ceilings down. After some careful planning they did place in some beams which were part of the structures as well as the design.

The Little Details

The homeowner continued to stress that she wanted creativity for her finished basement. She likes entertaining people, so she wanted a nice full-sized kitchen and a big serving area. Bartelt Filo was able to accomplish both. Again a lot of unique design that can be seen was done to set a mood and pull the whole project together in a flowing space.

“She had a definite look in mind and so we were able to give her a couple of different options,” says Filo. “We had an interior designer that worked with her in helping to make the selections. Being a very unique project, there were a few of options that needed to be given to her so she could come up with the right idea and plan that she could do here.”

The flow of this finished basement begins at the stairs coming down into a back hall area. The staircase was opened up to make it inviting and lighting was added going down the staircase. The hall area, which acts as a foyer, allows visitors to branch off between the new kitchen, dining room or restroom.

In the dining area, the centerpiece is not on the table but built into the wall. It is of the Greek mythological Titan, Prometheus. Hand created by Orlandini Studios of Milwaukee, Wis. for this project, this fireplace was shipped and installed in pieces.

The design of the Titan’s hair allows for votives to be placed around the fireplace to give the exterior a glow.

The homeowner is a collector of a lot of art pieces and collectibles. To add this artistic detail to her finished basement she asked the crew to look at the possibility of adding a masonry cherub that’s holding a bowl.

“She said she’d like us to add it if we could,” says Filo. “We said we’d give it our best shot.”

Filo himself and one of the lead carpenters decided to tackle this problem. They had to modify the statue to allow piping to run through the body of the statue to drain the vessel bowl sink that would be placed on top of the cherub statue. Drilling out the statue was tricky because of its fragile nature and because of the metal reinforcement bars throughout the statue.

“I don’t know how the hell we didn’t break it,” adds Filo. “We had to make a lot of modifications to it, but we did it and it worked out great.”

Besides the delicate work done to the cherub sink, the crew added other exceptional details to this finished basement. They included copper detailing around the kitchen cabinets as well as the backdrop for the cabinets and crown molding. There was also cornice work done around the kitchen that was unique.

Another part of the project that made for great opportunities in the design was the addition of storage. The homeowner wanted concealed doors where she could store things, but didn’t want there to be any visible signs that there were doors there. Bartelt Filo’s challenge was to make everything durable enough to last and be functional. This meant making hidden wall and storage spaces that appeared to be just a part of the room. The team also added a removable buffet serving counter and lots of hand-hewed beams to bring the design together and give the homeowner the flexibility and options she was looking for.

Even with all the fine detail to this project, it didn’t run up the homeowner’s cost. “She had a very obtainable budget and in order to achieve what she was hoping for and what we were hoping to put into her project,” says Filo. “It was a very strict budget and we were able to work within it.”

Happy Homeowner

For eight months the homeowner handed over her basement to the Bartelt Filo crew. According to Filo though, she was fun to work with and was very open minded about her unique project.

“To be creative both by her input on the project and receptive to our ideas, made it a very enjoyable project,” adds Filo. “Because some of the things that we ran into that provided a few glitches, we had to overcome those but she was very understanding to that.”

The homeowner was very concerned on the finished high-end quality and creativity of the end result, but is pleased with the outcome. She entertains people in her newly finished basement on a regular basis and still marvels at the project. Because of the design and flow and the cool things and parts of this project, it doesn’t seem small, but a large project with so much to see.

“One thing about our staff is that we don’t just race through a project and say well this is what you signed on for, this is what you get,” says Filo. “If our guys came up with some creative ideas, they would bounce it off of her. She would weigh out if it was something she wanted to do or not, and we would go on from there, making it a very enjoyable process working together.”