• With careful lighting, you can make a lower level look less like a basement. Instead of lights in the ceiling, consider installing a crown near the top of the walls with LED lights behind it, directed at the ceiling.
• Consider how the space will be used -- is it a place for kids to play, or for adults to gather? "We do a lot of carpet on lower levels. If it's a walkout and you're going to be in and out, tile. If it's an exercise space, you can even put rubber on the floor."
• Use artwork to create focal points on the walls. "Don't leave a big plane of drywall."
• "If it's a large, open lower level, designate different areas for different functions," he said. Possibilities include a media center, game area, bar, entertainment area. Other functions to consider: wine storage, exercise, a project room, a home office.
• Mirrors in basements and lower levels give a lighter feel to the space.
• Built-ins such as bookcases or cabinetry add visual focal points and also serve a function.
• Don't necessarily stick to light colors. "If it's going to be more of an evening lounging area or media room, darker colors or stronger colors are more exciting, cozier, more intimate," he said.
• If the area has issues with water seepage, cork or bamboo may be preferable to carpet on the floor.
• Comfort is an important consideration in a basement. Give it separate temperature controls from the rest of the house, or increase the airflow. "Once you increase the comfort level system it will get more use," he said.
• The layout of the basement will be determined by the way it's used. If you want to put in an entertainment or home theater area, consider the size of the TV set and its distance from the couch.
• Bring in as much natural light as possible. Egress windows can be expensive to install, but they make the basement more pleasantly bright and open looking. Instead of just installing a well outside of an egress window, consider tiers of land with plantings for an even cheerier look.
• If basements aren't properly waterproofed, they will get wet. "No carpet -- period," he said. "If you want something soft, put down a rug." Use tile products designed for wet environments; floating wood floors are often OK.
• Before finishing a basement, perform a radon test. "Radon is the No. 2 cause of lung cancer, and Minnesota is a high-risk zone."
• Egress windows bring in more light. "Put a nice cedar timber egress well around the window with some ledges for flowers," he said. "It makes the basement seem less subterranean."
• Use wall sconces when possible, especially with low ceilings. Overhead lighting right above your head is unflattering, and glares in your eyes when you glance upward.