The lowly basement, once a dark wood-paneled teenage den, is getting more respect in the home-improvement world. Today’s basements, more elegantly named lower levels, are being reworked into bright, inviting spaces as deserving of design details and polished finishes as the rest of the house, according to local contractors.

“We are treating the basement as we would the first floor,” said Michael Anschel, owner of Otogawa-Anschel Design + Build, Minneapolis. “Hardwood floors, maple and walnut baseboards, nicer doors, glass backsplashes — and taller ceilings.”

The lower levels are often warmed by heated floors and packed with amenities such as Irish-themed bars, massive movie screens and even a stage where the kids can perform. “We’re trending away from cavern pub basements,” said Anschel. “They are less man-cave and more family-focused.”

Homeowners are choosing smart floor plans that create a multifunctional great room encompassing a bar or kitchenette for entertaining, a TV-viewing zone and rec area for a ping-pong or pool table. There’s a movement away from a separate theater room, which “can feel lonely,” said Mark Mackmiller, owner and designer for Mackmiller Design Build, Eden Prairie.

But those 3-D projectors, backsplash glass tiles and fancy finishes can add up. With the economy on the upswing, homeowners are spending more money on a variety of remodeling projects, including updating and outfitting their lower levels, said Anschel. This year, the average cost of a Twin Cities midrange basement remodel was $76,000, according to Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value Report.

“People want to create a space that’s beautiful,” he said. “Not just a place to watch a movie.”

For an inside look at two lower-level makeovers, turn to H3.

Stage and screen


The starting point: Emily Rose’s Minnetonka home, built in 2009, had an unfinished walkout lower level. She wanted to turn it into a cozy, comfortable haven where she could entertain adults, and her 9-year-old twin daughters, Maya and Noa Mor, could host slumber parties and watch “Frozen.” “I wanted space for a ping-pong table, a big sectional — and a stage,” said Rose. “The girls are very theatrical and love to sing and dance.”


The transformation: Designer Scott Barsness, of Otogawa-Anschel Design + Build, first knocked down a wall at the bottom of the stairs to open up the view of the 1,200-square-foot space. He created a clean and contemporary-style great room that includes a seating area in front of the TV/movie screen, a ping-pong-playing zone and a kid-friendly refreshment bar. The curved arched openings and white enameled millwork echo design details from the rest of the house. Off the great room, he added a bathroom and guest bedroom for visiting grandparents. “We also designed it to be able to morph as the kids grow older,” added Barsness.


Toasty wood floor: Rose chose a walnut floor, which is heated, because she liked the look and it’s easy to clean. Anschel prefers hardwood floors over carpet for lower levels because of their beauty and durability. “We’re putting in more hardwood installed as a floating floor and designed to keep moisture out,” he said.


Dream screen: One large wall is covered with “silver screen” paint, and Rose bought a 3-D projector. “More clients are doing this instead of a flat-screen TV,” said Anschel. “$150 in paint and, voilà, you have a 15-foot screen.”


Let’s put on a show: Barsness and Anschel designed the walnut stage to blend in, rather than take center stage, by building it beneath the media screen, mimicking an old-fashioned movie theater. Built-in cabinets hold media components on both sides, and an automated sound system can be controlled by a tablet. “It was our first dual-purpose screen and stage area,” said Anschel.


Crazy for color: Otogawa-Anschel used six different blocks of color on the walls for visual interest and movement of space. The wall behind the movie screen is painted dark gray so it doesn’t reflect light.


Beverage station: Rose chose to put in a family-friendly mini kitchen rather than an alcohol-oriented sports bar. “I didn’t want a big bar with a beer tap,” she said. The kitchen is equipped with floating shelves, cabinets and a refrigerator for drinks and snacks. The countertop remnant granite slab is cut with an undulating organic edge. “Those little divots invite you in,” said Barsness. “It’s like getting a hug.”

Going green: Eco-friendly features were a high priority for Rose. “Homeowners are asking for durable green products that use fewer resources and don’t make you sick,” said Anschel. They include low- and zero-VOC paint and finishes, remnant granite slabs, low-flow faucets and cabinets with eco-resin panels made of recycled milk-jug plastic. Rose picked the fiery shades of red, orange and yellow in the recycled-glass backsplash, the showpiece of the bar.

The best part: Maya and Noa can watch “The Voice” and boogie to Taylor Swift on the stage in their lower-level lair. “I wanted the basement to be bright, have lots of light, and most of all, be fun,” said Rose.


Rustic lodge getaway


The starting point: A partially finished walkout basement that was used as a kids’ playroom and storage area in a 1990s home in Chanhassen. The homeowners wished to update and make it more multipurpose for their three growing children and a dog. Family members participate in many sports and requested a fitness room.


The transformation: Mark Mackmiller, owner and designer for Mackmiller Design+Build, Eden Prairie, reconfigured the 1,064-square-foot space and turned it into a family hub for watching TV and movies, playing games and sitting by a stacked-ledge-stone gas fireplace. The handy kitchenette is used for entertaining. Hickory cabinetry in the kitchenette and craft room unifies the design.


Kitchen with a mission: The homeowners opted for a kitchen instead of a designated bar area; it includes a full-size refrigerator, hickory cabinets, wine cooler and microwave. The granite countertop looks like a kid’s agate collection. “If the basement is kid-oriented, we usually recommend a kitchenette, which is more practical than a bar,” said Mackmiller.


Table talk: A space-saving round hickory table is built into the wall. Now there’s enough floor space for sleepovers and an air-hockey table.


Stone style: “Cinnamon bark” ledge stone in the base of the table and gas fireplace surround adds texture and warmth. “The stone is dry stacked, and there’s no mortar, for a more natural look,” said Mackmiller.


Anytime fitness: Mackmiller removed a post to open up the workout room, and then added a padded floor and two walls of mirrors for dance and gymnastics.


Old World finishes: The walls are covered in hand-troweled Venetian plaster made of crushed marble and limestone for a textural, aged appearance. For the doors and woodwork, Mackmiller chose a multiple-step specialty rust finish for a unique custom look.


Crafty corner: An unused long wide hallway was converted into a craft and gift-wrapping station with built-in hickory cabinets and shelves that keep the mess in one place.


Dog-washing station: The remodeled existing bathroom was large enough to add an elevated stainless-steel tub outfitted with a hand shower attachment for bathing Kobe, the homeowners’ English springer spaniel.