News & Politics

Beautiful Basements: Game, Set, Match

When your children love to play tennis, adding a basement sport court is a winning decision.

In the Rales family’s basement sport court, the children’s grandfather appears in the mural as a referee. Photograph by Andrew Propp.

If You Want to Install a Sport Court

Be specific

“When someone asks for a multipurpose court, we tend to be
conservative with space and height so the sport court doesn’t overwhelm
the lower level,” says builder Jim Gibson. But when a homeowner is
specific about its use—whether squash, basketball, or tennis—the designer
can create a court that suits that sport well.

Take the long view
If you’re putting in a court when your kids are young, you
might be thinking about play areas for rainy days or play dates with
friends. But think long-term: When the kids are teenagers, they’ll likely
use the area to listen to music or perhaps even practice with a band—and
it’s always easier to add soundproofing during construction.

When Lyn Rales built her home in Bethesda, she knew exactly
what she wanted to do with the basement. Her two teenage children both
loved and were good at tennis. “My kids were always hitting balls against
the wall of our previous home’s basement, and it was loud upstairs,” says
Rales. “I wanted to do this for them, but with some sound

Jim Gibson of Gibson Builders constructed a basement that would
have ten-foot ceilings through most of the spaces, such as the exercise
room, storage area, and playroom. But in one area, he excavated deeper to
provide 14-foot ceilings—a good height for a modest sport court. “It was
important for the ceiling to be high enough for them to practice their
serve,” says Gibson, “even if it wasn’t going to be a regulation-size

Gibson installed a rubberized DecoTurf surface like the one at
the US Open, which is easy on the joints and gives the ball a nice bounce.
A large laminated window between the court and the family room lets adults
socialize or watch TV while still seeing the kids practice. That view also
came in handy when the teenagers used the court for parties.

A mural incorporates the children’s tennis bags and some of
their favorite players. Guests can spot Stefan Edberg, Thomas Muster,
Steffi Graf, and Anna Kournikova in the stands, plus the kids’ grandfather
as the referee.

Net result: excellent. Both Rales kids played college

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