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How-To Basements
Hometime Logo Dean Johnson
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Trans 1) Lower Level Planning Trans
2) Plumbing & Fixtures
3) Framing
4) Veneer Plaster Walls
5) Lighting
6) Finishing Details
7) Fun Extras

Finishing Details

A lower level or basement can be a complicated area to finish off -- more than a dining room or kitchen for instance -- because a wide range of items can easily fit into a lower level scheme.

Our lower level project incorporated several items that influenced the appearance and layout of each room.

Designing Door Casing

Door CasingWe chose custom made, solid cherry interior doors and wanted to do something special to trim them off. Rather than using standard milled casing, we decided to go with ordinary stock pieces and designed our own.

For the sides, we radiused the corners slightly and nailed them in so the tops were even with the top door jamb. We also set them back from the jamb leaving a 1/4" margin.

We went with a three-piece design for the header to give it some character. The middle header piece lined up flush with the edges of the sides, and the bottom piece stuck out 5/16" on either side. Before putting the pieces up, we attached the bottom piece to the main piece.

The top piece runs a bit wider than the bottom piece and also sticks out 3/4" from the face. We mitered the ends and put on returns to give it a finished look. And for this piece we nailed down from the top.


Creating Decorative Columns

Decorative Columns Even after finishing a lower level project, there are usually telltale signs that you're in a basement. Things like soffits that are obviously hiding ductwork or plumbing, or columns that are hiding posts.

Our goal was to try to make the columns and soffits work together as a whole design and to help define the space. We wanted the columns to take on a "massive" look, to balance with the massive weight of the fireplace.

We used three different materials to build our columns. The face pieces were made from cherry veneer particleboard. It's more stable than solid cherry so there's less chance it will cup or warp. Besides it's difficult to find solid cherry in wide widths. And veneer is less-expensive than solid cherry.

The inside side pieces of our "channel" were made from solid stock because we knew the edges would show after we ripped them to width. For the channel backs, we used veneered plywood.



Frameless European Cabinets

As the word implies, frameless cabinets don't have faceframes. Instead, the doors and drawer fronts cover the entire face of the cabinets and butt up next to one another. The hinges are secured from the inside of the cabinets so they're not visible. And because there are no faceframes, there is more usable space inside.

Although the cabinet doors and drawer fronts are made of solid maple, the boxes are made of a high density particleboard and covered with a thin maple veneer. They are also less likely to warp than solid wood.

droorA good indicator of cabinet quality is how the drawer joints are joined. A dovetailed joint is arguably the most desireable type of construction. And the box should be securely attached to the drawer bottom and/or face.

The drawers were made of metal boxes to ensure solid construction, and moisture-proof linings to protect the metal. And the boxes were screwed into the front panels making a strong joint.


Unique Cabinet Installation Techniques

mounting cabinet to wall Our cabinets had a few unique installation techniques that were different from standard cabinets.

The base cabinets have adjustable legs; turning them allows you to level the cabinets once they're in place. They're really handy when the floor isn't level since each side of the cabinet can be raised or lowered individually. A detachable toe kick covers the legs once they're installed.

The upper cabinets are hung on a metal rail that gets screwed into the wall along a level line. There are a couple of brackets on the back side of each cabinet which hook into the rail.

Two sets of screws inside the cabinets control the brackets: one set adjusting each side up/down, and the second set secures the cabinet to the wall and lock it in place.

It's important with frameless cabinets to be able to adjust the doors and drawer fronts to line up perfectly over the cabinets. On our cabinets, all the doors have adjustable, clip-on metal hinges which are pretty easy to work with. Just line them up and snap them in place.


Solid Surface Applications

solid surfacr counter top We've had solid surface countertops installed in many of our past projects. In this project, we used solid-surface in some unique design ideas and applications.

For our game room wet bar we wanted the countertop to be really bold. We saw a striped design in a magazine, drew a sketch of our variation and gave it to Tom Pinske, our solid surface fabricator.

The black backsplash covers the entire wall space between the countertop and cabinets. Tom just used a single sheet of the material and routed out holes.

cast iron tubIn addition to the countertop, the tub deck was solid-surface material. Usually with a fiberglass tub they'll put the deck down first and set the tub over it.

Our tub was cast iron and extremely heavy so we had to set that in first and build the deck around it. They installed the deck in several pieces so they could slide them under the edge of the tub.

The front of the tub was made up of three recessed panels. One was removable to give us access to the plumbing (required by code).

The tub's backsplash was also solid surface. They just glued it directly to the wall, and capped it off with a railing. On the wall adjoining the sauna, the solid surface was brought up around the windows.


Rumford Fireplace

A Rumford fireplace A Rumford fireplace has a shallower firebox than a typical fireplace and the sidewalls are angled in toward the back to throw more heat into the room thereby making the unit more efficient.

To further enhance efficiency, we ran an insulated duct from the outside to the fireplace. That way, the fireplace will burn fresh air from outside but won't burn any inside air that's already heated. The duct also prevents backdrafts.

fireplace mantelIt's common for masons to brace a form along the top of the firebox to help align the upper stones and hold them in place while they set. But our contractor, Steve Homola, used a curved piece of OSB to create an arch over the firebox, an effect he later repeated over the mantle in the arch over the mantle.

The stone facing comes from a quarry in northeastern Wisconsin, and it's known as Niagara dolomite. Steve set it in what's known as a dry stack style, which leaves a narrow joint between the stones and a recessed layer of mortar that's not readily noticable.

complete fireplaceWe had been considering a stone slab for the mantle, but Steve proposed using the same Niagara dolomite to create a ledge above the firebox and then laying the stone on edge to create an arched recess above the ledge repeating the arch over the firebox described above which turned out pretty well.

Suspending Coffered Ceiling

installing wood pannel into coffered ceiling A coffered ceiling is defined as a ceiling decorated with ornate recessed panels. In the home, coffered ceilings are most common in a den or library. They're also popular in high-end commercial settings, like executive offices and conference rooms.

Even though a coffered ceiling looks like something done by a master craftsman, it's actually a cleverly disguised suspended ceiling system.

The types of wood available are poplar, maple, red oak, and cherry -- with poplar at the low-end and cherry at the high-end. The style varies with the size and depth of the coffer (panel). A shallow coffer is 2" deep, and a deep coffer is 4" deep.

coffered ceiling half completeDepending on the type of wood and style of panel you choose, the price for this type of ceiling can range from $13.50 to $28.50 per sq. ft.

The system shown in this video is the Wood Grid® system from the Midwestern Wood Products Co.

This system went together pretty easily, and only took us about two days to put up. It works exactly like the metal grid ceilings you see in so many office buildings. The wood grid actually hangs from the ceiling with wires. Then the 2' x 2' panels are set into the grid.

The only really tricky part of the installation was getting the grid perfectly level. We also were slowed down by relocating the recessed lights so they would be in the panel centers.

completed coffered ceilingWe put all of the full-sized panels in, then measured for the perimeter panels. We made cardboard templates and sent them back to the manufacturer where they custom made the odd-sized panels. It sounds like a lot of work, but is a fairly standard procedure for this kind of ceiling.

Most pieces come unfinished so it's best to stain/finish the panels and let them dry a day or two before putting them up.

Watch Video: Coffered Ceiling



carpeting laid out Vinyl, wood, ceramic tile and carpeting are all viable options for finishing the floors in a lower level, but we chose carpeting for this project.

Carpet has a sound deadening quality which we figured would help reduce the noise echoing through the open floor plan.

Plus there's a 3/8", 8 lb. pad below the carpet which provides plenty of cushion but with just a slight loss of headroom.


Tiling Bathroom

Floor Tile In the bath area, we used 12x12 ceramic tiles to finish the floor and 2x2s in the sauna. We laid the 12x12s in a diagonal or diamond pattern.

Start the layout with a full tile lined up with the center of the whirlpool tub. That resulted in identically cut tiles on the angled corners of the deck and a real custom look on the floor.

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