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Beautiful Basements: Small and Sleek

Thanks to clean lines and a tight design, an English basement in Georgetown feels much larger than it is.

A tiny basement makes the most of its space by hiding utilitarian features, such as the laundry area, and maximizing natural light. Photograph by Paul Burk Photography.

If You Have a Small Basement

Lighten up
Heavy, overstuffed furniture with skirting weighs down a room. In a tight space, look instead for pieces that are smaller in scale with exposed legs. Lucite and glass—whether for a coffee table or chairs—also take up less space visually.

Incorporate storage
Clutter can make even a big room feel cramped. Although sliding doors conceal a lot of storage in this basement, keep in mind that items don’t have to be hidden to be neat. A wine rack, for example, can be compact and provide an attractive focal point.

Trick the eye
Doors that reach all the way to the ceiling create the illusion of height and can make a low space seem taller. Floor-to-ceiling windows and cabinets that stretch to the ceiling have the same effect.

When Richard Harris bought his Georgetown house, the downstairs kitchen needed a makeover. “I wanted it to be modern and open,” says Harris, “and to force attention out to the garden and patio and away from the side that’s below street level.”

Architect Richard Loosle-Ortega of Kube Architecture says the basement—which isn’t a rental apartment but additional living space for Harris—presented lots of challenges: “Besides the usual desire for light in a lower level, the house is very old, circa 1800. It needed a steel beam in the center for structural support.” And at 350 square feet, it was tiny.

Because of its size, every design element counted. Among the first things Harris chose were the white kitchen cabinets, designed by the contemporary Italian firm Boffi. They became the inspiration for the rest of the project’s clean, simple aesthetic.

Floor-to-ceiling doors and windows provide an illusion of height, while heated floors eliminate the need for radiators. Sliding doors hide utilitarian features such as the powder room and laundry area, and a folding glass wall in back opens onto the rear garden and floods the room in light.

Three small windows in the front of the house, which look up onto the sidewalk and offer a view of feet of passersby, were hidden by recycled-acrylic panels that slide open or closed. In addition to unifying the space, the panels are backlit to imitate day or evening light. The result is a bright and airy space that feels much bigger than it is.

Explore More Beautiful Basements ››

This article appears in the August 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.

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