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Basement Remodels Are Hot Because of the Pandemic. Here’s a Really Good One.

How a DC family turned theirs into a multifunctional space that works for everyone.

With pandemic life maxing out practically every inch of our homes, a lot of Washingtonians are looking downward in search of more square-footage. But while finishing a basement is usually easier than building out or up, it comes with challenges, particularly in an area like Washington, where the ground is wet and the houses often old.

Architects Anthony Wilder and Gary Lofdahl created this multi-functional space for a family of four in the Palisades. Wilder says homeowners should budget at least $100,000 and four months for similar projects—though the work could reach $300,000 and take as long as six months. The basement of this 1950s Colonial was already partially finished, but it was so cramped that even the mom, who’s only five-foot-two, had trouble getting around in some spots. Here’s how Wilder and Lofdahl transformed it.

In the old basement, above, all of the ductwork was bulky and exposed. Wilder and his team gained a foot of ceiling height by replacing the ducts with thinner versions that were small enough to stuff between the floor joists overhead.
Standard-size recessed cans were too deep to fit into the ceiling along with all the ductwork. The architects chose shallower LED versions by Nora Lighting.
The workout area, above, used to be a separate room with a typical door. Thanks to a widened opening and a sliding barn door, the space can now become part of the main area or be closed off and repurposed as another bedroom.
While a big motivation for the remodel was to create a hangout area for their teenage kids, the parents added a wine room beneath the stairs for themselves.

The owners got rid of as many walls as they could, but the one with the TV is structural, meaning it would have been more difficult and expensive to remove. They gave it purpose by outfitting it with the television, and adding the charcoal-colored herringbone detailing.

Photographs by John Cole Photo

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Senior Editor

Marisa M. Kashino joined Washingtonian in 2009 as a staff writer, and became a senior editor in 2014. She oversees the magazine’s real estate and home design coverage, and writes long-form feature stories. She was a 2020 Livingston Award finalist for her two-part investigation into a possible wrongful conviction stemming from a murder in rural Virginia. Kashino lives in DC.